Professional Wrestling was a massive part of my childhood. It began with watching the WWF back in the early nineties, the Hulk Hogan’s, Macho Man Randy Savage’s and Ultimate Warrior’s of this world, these larger than life roid riddled personalities. Some kids read comics to get a superhero fix. I watched Summerslam and Wrestlemania.
Boxing began to render Wrestling obsolete for me as a teenager, my interest waned, but then ECW came along. It was like being around when Punk rock first broke through into the mainstream. This was wrestling with an edge, and though everything was still worked and choreographed, there was a dangerous hint of realism. The likes of Sabu, New Jack and the Sandman pushed things to the limit. People really got hurt.
The genesis of the ‘Stone Cold’ persona began in ECW, before Steve Austin joined the rebellious organisation he was a generic blonde wrestler with a sculpted physique. He had no personality to set him apart from the crowd. Whilst in ECW Austin woke up to what was going on around him, and by the time he joined the WWF, he shaved his head and became a bad ass. Incorporating Sandman’s boozy wildness and amping the violence up to eleven, people began to wake up to Austin’s gimmick.
Essentially Stone Cold was a heel, a bad guy who was not supposed to be liked. In wrestling terms a heel would never ‘get over’ as a fan favourite, but Austin changed that. The crowd began to cheer for Austin, and he somehow became the most popular wrestler in the company, bucking a business trend pioneered by Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart before him. When Austin feuded with Vince McMahon, the boss of the WWE, the crowd vicariously lived through Austin as he stunned his way through the entire corporation.
Neck injuries derailed Austin’s wrestling career, so he decided to move to the movie business. Luckily the WWE had created their own film production company WWE Studios and inevitably they used their ‘talent’ to star in the films they produce. In ‘The Condemned’ Austin stars alongside Vinnie Jones and erm… the woman who played Dee in ‘Neighbours’.
‘The Condemned’ is a satirical comment on reality television and the dark nature of the World Wide Web. An ambitious television producer stages an online reality show on a remote island. Ten of the most dangerous incarcerated people on earth are assembled together and must fight to the death in order earn their freedom and a nice cash prize. The film is somewhat like ‘Battle Royale’, in that all of the contestants are fitted with explosive devices which means they have no choice but to partake in the game.
Predictably there is the bloke with a secret past who has been screwed over and wants to get home to his beloved (Austin), there is the ex-army psycho (Jones), token Asian Martial Arts guy, and a big dumb lump who dies a terrible death. The real bad guy of the piece is the maniacal television producer who wants to push the boundaries to the limit in order to get ratings.
The film’s biggest weakness is Austin, as an action hero he’s awfully stiff (might be something to do with the multiple surgeries he’s had) and has little charisma, he is unable to convince us that he has a heart, a vulnerable side. He had to, and I say this in wrestling terms, dig deep and play the face, the humble good guy, but really if there was any character type that he was born to play then it would be an anti-hero role.
The moral compass of the film is all over the place. Given that Austin is left on an island with nine other supposedly evil and deranged characters, it appears that almost half of the prisoners aren’t really that bad as people, you almost feel some compassion for them. Yeah I know that even a psychopath can play nice and show a different more pleasant side to them, I mean Ted Bundy was seen as a handsome charmer, but the contestants were supposedly cherry picked because they will kill unrepentantly and are scum of the earth.
Then there’s the violence against women. Inevitably in a mixed gender game of death you’re likely going to see women get killed, so this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise and could be brutal. However there is one attempted rape scene and another implied rape scene which leads to a female blowing herself up. Unpleasant and unsavoury, nonetheless such acts are used to underline just how low the reality producer is willing to go. Despite this, I can’t quite help feeling there is something about the prolonged nature of both scenes that just isn’t right, and it leaves you wondering what purpose they truly serve.
WWE studios has been a dubious venture in terms of the quality of output although not quite a financial disaster on the ill-fated XFL venture (Vince McMahon’s attempt to take on the NFL). When you consider the history of professional wrestlers moving into films, and we can think back to Hulk Hogan’s performances in ‘Suburban Commando’ and ‘Mr. Nanny’, it really is only Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson who has managed to display an ability to act, which is odd given that acting should be a strong part of the repertoire of a Professional Wrestler.