A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.
January 31, 2003 6:11am EST
Some 150 years ago a woman Matilda Nixon was blamed for the kidnapping of two local children and hanged by an angry lynch mob her body burned and scarred by the ray of a nearby lighthouse. After Matilda was buried however the kids turned up unharmed. She now haunts the town of Darkness Falls in the form of the Tooth Fairy and seeks vengeance on the community that lynched her. The film's protagonist is the troubled Kyle Walsh (Chaney Kley) who as a child woke up and saw the Tooth Fairy trying to kill him. He has since left Darkness Falls but returns to help his childhood friend Caitlin (Emma Caulfield) after she informs him that her five-year-old brother suffers inexplicable "night terrors." The Tooth Fairy's Achilles heel is light so when a citywide blackout hits the town no one is safe. The story is completely hokey and sparse on details but it is guaranteed to scare the crap out of anyone--even the most faithful horror aficionados.
Staying true to B-movie horrors Darkness Falls doesn't splurge in the star department. Kley who appeared on the small screen in the series Touched by an Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer makes his feature film debut as Kyle. His performance is a little flat here and his reaction to the Tooth Fairy is a little too blasé--even if this is not his first encounter with her. Another TV alum Caulfield (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Beverly Hills 90210) is slightly more convincing as she goes from skeptic to worrier to believer in the sinister Tooth Fairy. As her five-year-old brother Michael Lee Cormie is a thoroughly irritating child actor whose soul purpose in the film is to be cute and act vewy afwaid of the dawk. When he is not busy batting his eyelashes Cormie's character spends most of the film in a hospital bed because we are told he suffers from sleep deprivation. Yet Michael is asleep in almost every hospital scene.
Scribes Joseph Harris and John Fasano churn out a screenplay that is highly derivative of Wes Craven Presents: They released last November which revolved around night terrors and things that go boo! in the dark. But while They's villains--little papier-mâché figurines slathered in K-Y jelly--evoked more laughs than scares Darkness Falls' Tooth Fairy has a more sinister appearance: a wretched winged creature draped in black rags that appears wherever light is obscured while making these gnarly breathing sounds. First-time helmer Jonathan Liebesman manages to evoke fear without heavy special effects or blood and gore but by preying on every child's primal fear--the dark--using tried-and-true scare tactics that for some forsaken reason still work. "Why don't we just keep driving? We're safe in the car " a passenger in a car suggests seconds before old Matilda comes crashing through the windshield. It's a typical horror formula that will (I am ashamed to say) get you every time.