Support Local Journalism. Donate to Riverfront Times.

Austin's Powers 

Stone Cold is hot, but The Condemned's hypocrisy is not.

"Ten people will fight. Nine people will die. You get to watch." So proclaims the poster for The Condemned, a movie executive-produced by World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon, and starring self-professed "whup-ass machine" Stone Cold Steve Austin and oft-suspended former soccer star Vinnie Jones.

So can someone explain where this movie gets off lecturing its audience about how awful they are for enjoying violence in entertainment? McMahon's no dummy — he has to know that the movie's main villain, a greedy entertainment promoter named Breckel (Robert Mammone), sounds awfully familiar when he defends his product by saying that it isn't marketed to children, or that he's just giving the public what they want. You don't have to agree that onscreen violence is inherently bad to be offended by the hypocrisy.

One of WWE's real-life defenses is that they never feature murder in their storylines, which is technically true, although they have featured "attempted vehicular homicide," necrophilia, immersion in liquid concrete, "buried alive" matches, heart attacks during sex, grave desecration and wrestler Al Snow secretly being fed the cooked remains of his kidnapped pet chihuahua. But no actual killing, save the accidental death of Owen Hart a few years ago. So that's the distinction: Here, Breckel has gathered ten death-row inmates from around the world to kill one another on an island rigged with cameras. Just like in Battle Royale, all contestants are strapped with explosives that will detonate if they don't participate; and after 30 hours, only one will be left alive.

It's no surprise that, lost in all the movie's moralizing about the dangers of violent entertainment is any commentary on the morality of the death penalty itself — other than when Breckel says that at least his way, one of the ten will get to live. (He has a point.) I guess director Scott Wiper opts out of the debate by having his inmates come from foreign prison.

Meanwhile, before the movie hops up on its high horse, we do get several cool battles involving the likes of Texan redneck Jack Conrad (Austin), ex-SAS sadist McStarley (Jones), crazed martial artist Saiga (Masa Yamaguchi) and a seven-foot Soviet (Nathan Jones, who briefly had his own WWE stint before realizing that big-screen henchman roles are more lucrative and less punishing). Unlike the Rock, who did his trademark eyebrow-raise in The Scorpion King; or Kane, who utilized the chokeslam in See No Evil, Austin doesn't wink at his audience with any signature moves. Granted, the Stone Cold Stunner wouldn't be the most effective jungle combat move, but it's a shame Austin doesn't get to flip the bird at least once (although, free from basic-cable restrictions, he's plenty good at verbalizing the gesture's equivalent).

Audiences are cued to cheer along with the corrupt promoters for the Mortal Kombat-style fatalities that ensue, but the line is apparently crossed when McStarley and Saiga kick the crap out of a woman — and enjoy it. If you enjoy it too, well, you're a sick puppy, says The Condemned. Born-again Vince must have forgotten the time when the Dudley Boyz slammed 80-year-old Mae Young through a wooden table, to the cheers of an adoring fan base.

But: Flaws, double standards, strange detours (cut-aways to FBI headquarters or Conrad's girlfriend, who lives on a farm) and all, this is still the most entertaining WWE release to date. Hostel's Rick Hoffman, doing his fast-talking shtick, is great as a controller with a crisis of conscience. And we already know from TV and from his standout turn as a racist guard in The Longest Yard that Austin can act; in the second half of the film, when he finally loses his temper and gets down to the business of revenge, Stone Cold really heats up the screen. Don't feel guilty for enjoying the violence. Just thank Vince.

We’re keeping you informed…
...and it’s what we love to do. From local politics and culture to national news that hits close to home, Riverfront Times has been keeping St. Louis informed for years.

It’s never been more important to support local news sources. A free press means accountability and a well-informed public, and we want to keep our unique and independent reporting available for many, many years to come.

If quality journalism is important to you, please consider a donation to Riverfront Times. Every reader contribution is valuable and so appreciated, and goes directly to support our coverage of critical issues and neighborhood culture. Thank you.

Speaking of...

Read the Digital Print Issue

April 1, 2020

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

© 2020 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation