Friday, September 5, 2008

D*#k Flicks: The Condemned

Wow. The Common Man cannot adequately describe what escaped from The Boy last night while in his crib. Something so disgusting and terrible that it required an immediate bath, the stripping of the bed, and the scrubbing of his mattress. Then, it necessitated an evening of snuggling between his mortified mother and father. The Common Man has never seen anything so horrible. Except, of course, when he was stuck on the couch on Tuesday, "enjoying" the latest D*#k Flick to come to his attention, The Condemned, starring Steve Austin.

Austin, of course, is best known as Stone Cold Steve Austin, the superstar and chief anti-hero of the WWE. The film represents Austin's first (and, gratefully, thusfar his only) attempt to be a leading man, after a decade and a half of guzzling beer, rolling around with half-naked dudes, and flipping the bird in the middle of a misnomered square in front of millions of people. It was also an attempt for WWE Films, the (The Common Man kids you not) movie-making arm of the country's pre-eminent wrestling outfit, to lower the standards for B-movies everywhere (leading to unbelievable grade inflation. On the new scale, if The Condemned is a B-movie, Gigli gets an A++.) and to promote one of its icons.

Now, the plot has actual promise as a sleazy b-movie. Ten convicts (men and women) from around the globe, all awaiting the death penalty, are ferried to an island in the middle of somewhere, where they will fight to the death until only one of them remains, all for the pleasure of an international online audience. There's a black guy and a Japanese guy and a Latino married couple, and a South African mercenary, and some other characters that, frankly, The Common Man was not too disappointed to forget. Most are entirely indistinguishable from one another, aside from skin color. Anyway, one of these convicts is a wrongly accused and convicted American ex-special forces guy who was rotting in a Guatemalan jail (Guess which character Steve Austin plays!).

Anyway, things begin going awry quickly when the show's production team begins to revolt against the executive producer. When, surprise surprise, the female contestants start getting cruelly raped and killed by their fellow players, the men and women in the control booth start getting a little squeamish. Of course, the producer wants to hear none of this. His viral snuff film is supposed to make him billions, after all. And so around and around they go, debating morality and ethics and wringing their hands that people will be entertained by realistic violence.

Note: It's important to remember, at this point, that the movie was produced by the WWE, a consistent source of violent entertainment several nights a week, and that, as the controllers are still debating, the film undercuts its own moral message by continuing to revel in the torture and killing of its actors.

The larger film tries to come off as the ultimate macho grudge match, with a kitchy plot and a lot of action. But frankly, the action doesn't deliver as promised. For a professional "athlete," Austin seems incapable of doing stunts that last longer than a few frames of film at a time. As though he's simply not gifted at using his body as anything other than a giant tank. So his fight scenes are all shot using very shaky handicams that do not capture one entire person, let alone an entire fight. And because of all this, with all the shaking and cuts involved, the film gives the distinct impression that Steve Austin can't fight worth a damn.

Also, because of the sketchy camera work, it's hard to figure out what's going on. When Austin fights another white guy, you're out of luck until the end. If you haven't guessed the end of the movie already, it's impossible to tell who wins until one guy is standing, bloodily triumphant, over his fallen foe. It's impossible to build any kind of suspense or momentum. And, perhaps most importantly, it gives The Common Man a damn headache, and perhaps a seizure (there's about 3 minutes of the movie that The Common Man is "missing"). The Common Man wonders how impressive this concept could have been with someone like an in-his-prime Chuck Norris in it. As it is, it just sucks to watch.

So, despite its manly undertones, and its copious explosions and prevelent violence, The Common Man has to give this "film" just half a ball. It gives him no pleasure to do so (much like the movie itself), but it clearly has earned it. The horrible, unintelligible, seizure-inducing action sequences would be reason enough without all the whining and hypocrisy about being entertained by violence. But since the hypocrisy is there, The Common Man feels compelled to mention that too. And all of that is not taking into account that the movie stars a man who pleaded no contest to beating his third wife.

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