Next to Stone Cold Steve Austin, your average bull has a pencil neck. Austin, the World Wrestling Entertainment personality, has a neck so overdeveloped that it makes what's above look positively pinhead.
Imagine a Schwarzenegger sundae with a cherry on top.
On the page, The Condemned undoubtedly reads like Survivor on steroids. On the screen, this vehicle customized to Austin's unexcitable persona is survivalist dreck, equal parts The Most Dangerous Game and Battle Royale.
Its premise: An Internet tycoon springs 10 prisoners from jails around the globe, jets them to a remote island, and promises that the last one alive gets his freedom. We follow them from Death Row to Deathmatch, see their exploits filmed live and streamed on the Internet at 50 bucks per subscriber.
The tycoon, Breckel (Robert Mammone), has conceived the most cynical YouTube programming imaginable, manipulative entertainment that his girlfriend correctly disparages as a "live snuff film." Thus cowriter-director Scott Wiper morally justifies his killer-thriller: He gives us exploitation with running social commentary.
Breckel "casts" his Nightmare Island scenario with an eye to race and culture war. There's a Japanese martial artist, Saiga (Masa Yamaguchi); a British mercenary, McStarley (Vinnie Jones); and a lethal Ghanaian babe, Yasantwa (Emelia Jones), characterized by Breckel as "an African chick with a nice rack."
A humanist Breckel is not, but it may be said that he is an equal-opportunity deployer.
Through it all, Austin acquits himself honorably, his character retaliating against violence rather than initiating it. The wrestler carries himself with decency and without self-seriousness, the qualities that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star. Austin deserves better material than this. So do we.
The Condemned *(out of four stars)
Produced by Joel Simon, directed by Scott Wiper, written by Scott Wiper and Rob Hedden, distributed by Lionsgate.
Running time: 1 hour, 53 mins.
Breckel. . . Robert Mammone
McStarley. . . Vinnie Jones
Saiga. . . Masa Yamaguchi
Julie. . . Victoria Mussett
Parent's guide: R (violence, torture, profanity, sexual violence)
Playing at: area theaters