It’s a good thing for contemporary screenwriters that Hollywood’s current actors are too stupid or too lazy (or generally a dangerous combination of both) to improvise basic dialogue on the spot, or the scribes would be reduced to writing only the press releases for the final product. Narrative has been reduced to a basic hodge-podge of elements cannibalized from previous movies, stapled to the frame of a theme that has played tried and true for near the last century of narrative filmmaking.
This week’s example is The Condemned, which is probably the hoariest of all Hollywood thriller concepts. Starting as Richard Connell’s 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” in which a big game hunter falls off of a yacht and becomes the prey himself stalked by a loony on a remote island, the story is the go-to source for uncreative minds.
Of course, over the years the stakes have by necessity been raised, so here we have a group of death row inmates culled from the gulags of the world and thrown together on an anonymous Pacific isle to mash it out, mano-a-mano, until the last bloodied man standing strides his way to freedom.
The “new” hook here is that with this scenario, there are 400 hundred cameras feeding live on the proceedings as a venal producer and his crew start counting the ducats, with millions of voyeurs logging on and kicking down 50 bucks a pop to watch the streaming snuff video on the Internet.
Yeah, it’s an indictment of contemporary media’s relentless need to sate our bloodthirsty ways with as much rough entertainment as they can find. Ahem. Actually, it does come across as sad and pathetic late in the proceedings as a talking head interrupts the mayhem to deliver a lecture on the ghoulish tendencies of popular entertainment … which rings about as true as inserting a feminist into a porn video to harangue the viewers as to how pornography demeans women. Yeah, whatever … more mayhem, please.
But as a WWE vehicle to try to mainstream another of its wrestlers into an action hero, the dialogue and themes are kept simple to avoid confusing the target audience. With that in mind, the movie works fine … although they seem to have hired the cinematographer from The Blair Witch Project, so bring the anti-seasickness pills.
Or just watch Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale instead.