WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) is the multi-media conquering wrestling organization, governed by Vince McMahon. In the past they were known for family wrestling entertainment, then moved onto a far edgier form of programming, before in the last few years moving back into the family format- albeit over here they are still mostly 15-rated (go figure). Why are we telling you this? Because WWE is known for sports entertainment and not movies and yet, with the inception of WWE Studios, the company has pushed their biggest wrestling stars into the movie industry with, it is fair to say, a mixed degree of success. For every fine or occasionally great effort (12 Rounds, No One Lives, Oculus) there have been woeful misfires (The Chaperone, The Marine, Leprechaun Origins) but one film that some happened to favour was The Condemned. Starring arguably one of the biggest wrestling stars ever, in “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the film was a fun (if cheesy) throwaway Saturday night actioner, which was heavily (and we mean heavily) indebted to The Running Man and Battle Royale. So has this sequel managed to retain the enjoyably trashy aspects of the first?
Well, first off, WWE star Randy Orton (12 Rounds 2: Reloaded, That’s What I Am) takes on leading duties this time round and the story is the same in terms of the gambling on death concept but bares practically no resemblance in any other way. The film focuses on Will Tanner (Orton), the leader of a pack of bounty hunters, and when one assignment goes badly wrong Will finds himself imprisoned. Six months later a deal is struck and Will is on temporary release, determined on leaving his old life behind. However he soon finds himself embroiled in a whole new deadly world, as those he once knew come gunning for him. What is this all about? Who’s operating those drones following him? How will he survive long enough to find out?
A passing moment of dialogue refers to the events of the last film but aside from that, this is practically a different film, and a massively forgettable one. The narrative drives along in the, admittedly picturesque, New Mexico setting but as the clichés mount (man of violence trying to move on, rich people betting on death, innocent guy presumed guilty) it is clear that the film is not going to deliver anything distinctive. The action becomes chock full of explosions but for all its fiery bangs and crashes, some of the action sequences feel troublingly edited, with the odd awkward cuts and moments of messy choreography. The central gambling idea is not used to any great effect and just becomes a requirement, so the film can thematically bare a slight resemblance to its predecessor. As an action film it is watchable but not as exciting as the films that have inspired it- Hard Target, Death Race (2008)- hell it is vastly inferior to The Condemned, which had many flaws, but at least had grit, hard-nosed action scenes and a usage of the core idea.
The acting is so-so, with Randy Orton actually being a fairly good everyman lead, as Will, but a bland script hampers his character, much like it does the supporting cast. Will’s team are reduced to Call of Duty-like categories: the sniper, the bomber, the leader, etc. and when they come into play, the script illogically makes the hero out to be an idiot; he practically walks into the second trap willingly! Eric Roberts offers some good support as Frank Tanner (Will’s dad), evading the dull dialogue just enough to become probably the most charismatic presence in the movie (not difficult). Meanwhile Breaking Bad’s Steven Michael Quezada hams it up as villain Raul and while OTT, his performance at least gives our hero someone worthwhile to fight- even if the 5’5’’ star looks laughably outmatched by the 6’4’’ WWE Star come the final fight!
The Condemned 2 is not a wholly awful film; it is just massively unimpactful, drab, and virtually unrelated to the (more enjoyable) 2007 film. Orton is a decent star but the script lacks energy, the story lacks impact and the action lacks punch (so to speak). If there is nothing else on, this is watchable enough but you won’t be recalling it for all that long, if at all.
Special Features: Featurettes
THE CONDEMNED 2 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ROEL REINÉ / SCREENPLAY: ALAN B. MCELROY / STARRING: RANDY ORTON, ERIC ROBERTS, STEVEN MICHAEL QUEZADA / RELEASE DATE: 29TH FEBRUARY