- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 28, 2007

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘The Condemned’

Rating: R for pervasive brutal violence and for language.

Common Sense Media: Pause. For ages 16 and older.

** (out of five stars)

Running time: 100 minutes

Common Sense review: “The Condemned” borrows from a number of sources, but its focus on mass media ethics calls to mind the weirdly campy “Running Man,” in which game show host Richard Dawson oversaw a to-the-death contest. In Scott Wiper’s version, the violence is more brutal and the dialogue less snappy, but the overly simplified point is apparently the same: TV producers are scum.

While locked up in a Salvadoran prison, Jack Conrad (pro wrestling’s “Stone Cold” Steve Austin) catches the attention of Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone), a reality TV producer who’s scouting talent for his latest idea: Ten death-row inmates are dumped on Papua New Guinea, where they fight to the death; the last one standing goes free.

Although Jack makes friends with Paco (Manu Bennett) — whose wife also happens to be one of the contestants — for the most part, he has just one aim: finding a way to contact his girlfriend back in Texas. That emotional connection isn’t the only thing that sets Jack apart from the others — turns out he’s a 14-year veteran of the Special Forces, abandoned by the U.S. government during a “black ops” mission gone wrong. Plus, he appears to have something resembling a conscience.

Jack’s adversaries include an especially loudmouthed cretin named Nazi (Andy McPhee), a psycho martial artist (Masa Yamaguchi), and a cheater named Ewan (Vinnie Jones) who receives supplies and weapons from the producer, who’s looking to goose the action. As the various fights go on and on and on, the moral lesson also is pounded home. Breckel’s girlfriend and primary tech guy suggest the extreme violence has “crossed a line,” and TV journalist Donna (Angie Milliken) accuses Breckel of producing a “live snuff film.”

After Ewan and Jack wreak all manner of vengeance on these greedy “TV people,” Donna shows up again in a coda: “Those of us who watch,” she intones soberly, “we are the condemned.” Right. After delivering nearly two hours of bloody bedlam, now the movie blames you.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that teens who are into pro wrestling may be drawn to this brutal action movie by Mr. Austin.

Families can talk about violence on television and, increasingly, in Web videos. What are the effects of watching such violence? What’s the best way to deal with this ongoing problem? Should access to programming be limited or regulated? If so, who should be in charge of regulating it? Studios? Parents? The government? Should there be fines or other costs for breaking regulation rules? How does this movie make a case against media violence even as it delivers exactly that? Families also can discuss reality TV. Do you think any reality show would ever go this far?

Sexual content: Female contestants wear cleavage-baring tops; a brief kiss between husband and wife turns into some groping — which is interrupted by killers.

Language alert: Frequent use of extreme expletives.

Violence alert: The hand-to-hand fights feature punches, kicks, crotch grabs, cut throats, throttles, arm locks, body slams, bites, head-butts, bloody faces and broken bones; weapons include knives, chains, clubs and branches, ropes, and guns. People are thrown roughly from helicopters; two men rape a female contestant (indicated by reactions of viewers).

Social-behavior alert: Frequent cigarette smoking by cons and TV producers; Breckel drinks liquor; references to drug cartels.

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