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THE PUNISHER (R) (2004)

Lions Gate Films

Official Site

Director: Jonathon Hensleigh

Producer: Ari Arad

Written by: Michael France, Jonathon Hensleigh

Cast: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Laura Elena Harring, Samantha Mathis, Roy Scheider

Rating:

Comic book adaptations are all the rage these days, so it’s inevitable that someone would try to bring Marvel Comics’ antihero The Punisher to the big screen. The Punisher concept seems simple enough: He’s a sociopath who has no regard for the life of the criminals over whom he considers himself to be judge, jury, and executioner. The Punisher has no superpowers, only an arsenal of military grade weapons and a bag full of dirty tricks. The villains, like The Punisher, are just everyday people, so no fancy special effects would be needed in the making of this film. How could Hollywood screw up such a straightforward idea?

Thomas Jane plays Frank Castle, a special operations veteran and a government agent about to retire to his wife and son. Of course no one ever gets to retire peaceably in movieland and, during a family reunion, a mob hit squad arrives and executes his entire family in an unbelievably over-the-top massacre. Despite being shot point blank in the chest and then being at ground zero of an explosion, Frank Castle survives to begin a new career as The Punisher.

In a movie called The Punisher one could easily be lead to expect some, well, punishment. That is where the movie makes its first mistake. It takes too long for Frank Castle to begin his transformation to The Punisher and when it does happen it’s not entirely convincing. This could be because Thomas Jane was a relative newcomer and they wanted to get their money’s worth out of villain Howard Saint (Travolta) so they gave him a bunch of needless scenes to fill the movie. Well at least when The Punisher is on screen he could be unleashing the hate on crime, but he seems to sit around brood and contemplate new, convoluted ways to attack his enemies.

Since The Punisher’s primary weapons are modern technology, the few scenes where he goes into action are rather uninspired shoot-outs. It didn’t have to be that way. Part of The Punisher’s appeal is the unabashed glee with which he dispatches his enemies. He never has any sort of inner conflict; he just hates criminals and wants to kill them. Also the movie forgets The Punisher’s secret weapon: dirty tricks. In the movie, The Punisher battles it out with his enemies face to face in contests of strength. This may sound cool, but in reality it’s just a stupid way to get killed. In the comics he surprises enemies and readers alike by hitting below the belt time and time again.

The Punisher’s plot has more holes than his gunshot victims. At two hours running time one of the movie’s many plot elements would be entertaining, but they all fail to connect. The Punisher’s neighbors are all walking clichés. There’s the fat kid, the computer nerd, and let’s not forget the supermodel-turned-waitress (Romijn-Stamos). Howard Saint’s jealous nature concerning his wife Olivia (Harring) feels more like a plot device than a character attribute.

No part of this movie is done right. The music is heavy-handed and the lighting would be much more appropriate for a more dramatic hero such as Batman. Even the few special effects shots look terrible. The half-star this movie garnered was for its two torture scenes, both of which got the response the filmmaker desired from the audience, but every other time the best this movie could achieve were sighs of disappointment or jeers of derision. Unfortunately this movie did have plenty of punishment and it is inflicting that punishment on unsuspecting audience members two hours at a time.

—Woodrow Bogucki

 

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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