From the moment the "WWE Films" logo unfurls onscreen, it's obvious that The Condemned isn't aiming to win any Oscars. Which is fine, and for a while, the film's exactly what it should be: A dumb chunk of lowbrow pulp, a flick that shamelessly swipes from other stories (Battle Royale, "The Most Dangerous Game," The Running Man, Mortal Kombat) to create a generic actioner about 10 criminals battling to the death, with the carnage broadcast over the web. Lumbering ex-WWE star "Stone Cold" Steve Austin stars—bloated with muscles, apparently arthritic, and muttering dialogue in a deadpan monotone—and for a bit, all's fine, if not necessarily good.
But somewhere between Austin's first line ("Tell the warden to fuck himself") and the moment when he manages to make a helicopter explode not once but twice, a creepy sleaze seeps into The Condemned. Maybe it's in the scene in which one of the female combatants almost gets raped, or maybe it's the scene in which another female combatant actually gets raped, or maybe it's the scene in which a woman expresses her concerns over all this killin' and rapin'—and in response is promptly, crisply slapped.
About two-thirds of the way through The Condemned's mishmash of blurry fight sequences and violent misogyny, the film veers terrifyingly close to going all meta, clumsily offering up its own plot as a commentary on the WWE and the people who watch it. It's a tough thing to think about—luckily, Stone Cold quickly breaks it all up, busting in and killing some more dudes just in time for the end credits.