Every Man for Himself, and God Against All
-- Original title, The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser
And that, in a nutshell, is the pitch for The Condemned-- except, in this case, God's an illegal entertainment start-up. Broadcast wildman and snake-oil salesman Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) has an idea for the ultimate in pay-per-view: Spring 10 death row prisoners from various Third World hellhole jails, strap them with explosive ankle-cuffs, give them 30 hours to kill each other. Last person standing wins and earns their freedom, and the whole thing gets broadcast on the internet -- at $49.95 a viewer, and Breckel's shooting for Super Bowl ratings, with all the profit for him. The 10 include a monstrous British ex-army man (Vinnie Jones), a husband-and-wife desperado team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz), a swift-and-slippery martial artist (Masa Yamaguchi) ... and a late addition to the roster, Jack Conrad (Steve Austin), an American pulled from a jail in El Salvador. Conrad won't say what he was doing in El Salvador, and he won't say what his life was like before he was there ... but Breckel likes the big palooka, and enters him into the competition.
Having explosive devices strapped to you might be the ultimate action-film expression of the terrors of existence -- don't we all feel, even a little bit, like God or whomever could flick the switch at any moment? Connoisseurs of the explosive body-jewelry-fight-to-the-death genre will have noted the similarities between The Condemned and 2000's Battle Royale, the cult Japanese film with a similar pitch -- only in Battle Royale, it's 30 school kids sent off to play kill-or-be-killed, and not 10 criminals. Also, in Battle Royale, the contestants are sacrificed in the name of social order and imposed conformity; in The Condemned, it's all about ratings and money. As I've noted before, if you really want to understand a culture, watch their bad entertainment; you can learn a lot more about Shakespeare's times from Titus Andronicus than A Winter's Tale.