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"The Punisher"

Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh.
Written by Michael France ("Goldeneye") and Jonathan Hensleigh ("Die Hard with a Vengeance").
Starring Thomas Jane, John Travolta and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos.
Release Year:  2004 
Review Date:  4/22/04


Personally, I love the 1990 straight-to-cable classic "The Punisher", starring Dolph Lundgren in maybe his greatest role outside of "Blackjack."  Dolph stumbles through all of his scenes in that 1990 version, killing folks left and right while trying to get some bad guy in some of the worst action footage ever filmed.  I still think that was when I realized that Louis Gossett, Jr.--who won the Oscar for "An Officer and a Gentlemen" then decided he was worthless--was a complete and utter sellout.  (No, the "Iron Eagle" series wasn't enough to confirm this.)  By the way, further proof that I have seen too many films:  The year after "The Punisher" came out, Lundgren and Gossett, Jr. made ANOTHER STRAIGHT-TO-VIDEO MOVIE TOGETHER called "Cover-Up"; I rented it because the box art is so fake-glam-low-budget action flick.  Needless to say, it delivered...because it was horrible.

I had become familiar with Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, back when I was a kid; my friend Casey in Rochester had wall-to-wall Punisher posters in his room, each depicting scenes from the Marvel comics where Castle is either riding a motorcycle, getting shot at, or riding a motorcycle while getting shot at.  In the comics, I remember that Castle was quite jacked, literally bursting out of his skull-covered jump suit with manly pecs.  Of course, it isn't necessary to be too jacked up when you are dealing out your justice with a shotgun, but I digress.

As you may imagine given this premise, I was quite excited last year when I heard that "they" were going to make a new movie version of the comics, because the Lundgren version of "The Punisher" is complete dogshit.  The new version stars Thomas Jane ("Deep Blue Sea", "61*") as Castle, who opens the film by quickly losing his entire family at the hands of Howard Saint (John Travolta), illicit financial consultant to drug lords the world over.  Slightly angered by Saint's actions, Castle decides to forgo his connections with the FBI--since he has 1) retired and 2) been sold out by his G-boys--and take matters into his own hands, as they often do in the movies, eh?

The trailer for the new version of "The Punisher" promised me B-movie-style action, B-movie thrills and a mostly B-level cast, outside of Travolta...and, on these levels the film delivers.  Jane makes for a solid lead, as he has done the emotionless bit time and time again.  He beats the hell out of bad guys, gets the shit kicked out of him numerous times, and generally looks handy with a sawed-off.  A movie like this needed more action, but writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh decided it was more important to throw in a home life for Castle, courtesy of the neighbors that live in the slum they share with Castle.  Insert Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as "Buxom-Yet-Friendly Waitress", and we have a 15-minute diversion from the constant bloodletting.

Big mistake.

The home life is what brings "The Punisher" squarely into the sights of mediocrity.  Travolta does his overacting bad guy bit quite well here; he is essentially playing the same character he played in "Broken Arrow", except he spends less time firing machine guns at the good guy.  This is not such a bad thing, and I actually enjoyed a couple of the Travolta quips, like "Make Castle dead!" and his verdict on what to do with his wife, who may or may not be cheating on him with Saint's right-hand man Glass (Will Patton).  The rest of the cast comes and goes without getting in the way, which is to the film's overall detriment.

"The Punisher" of 2004 scratches the surface of what this franchise could ultimately be, if a sequel is to be made.  If John Woo (the John Woo of "Hard Boiled", not the John Woo of "Paycheck", mind you) were to handle this, the body count and the action would be awesome, and then we'd have what daddy was looking for.  As it is, not bad.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09