The Punisher (1989) (1989)
Director: Mark Goldbatt
Dolph Lundgren/The Punisher
Louis Gossett Jr/Jake
Kim Miyori/Lady Tanaka
Five years since the murder of his family by the mob, ex-cop Frank Castle (aka The Punisher aka Dolph freakin' Lundgren) has lost his marbles, lives in the sewers and only comes out to butcher criminals in the name of vengeance. But when the crime world implodes due to the Japanese Yakusa pissing on the Italian Mob’s turf, The Punisher gets in the middle and cleans that trash, shotgun, M-60, M16, knife and snap-neck style. THE GUILTY WILL BE PUNISHED!
This 1989 B-movie (budgeted around $10 million) adaptation of The Punisher comic book never saw a theatrical release in North America due to the downfall of New World Pictures (but was released in cinemas internationally). It was shelved for a year and then put out on home video, where it found and divided its audience. Most Punisher fans across the world loathed it with a passion, while others (like myself) found it to be an underrated action treat. With the 2004 release of "The Punisher" now upon us, many want to forget the Lundgren version of the same name...I, on the other hand, want to remember it.
This offering is more of a "loose take” on The Punisher comic than its mirror image. For example, here, The Punisher was solely an ex-cop as opposed to being an ex-marine/ Vietnam Vet. He also had no “skull symbol” on his shirt (one of the flick’s biggest muck-ups, in my opinion) and much like me after two bottles of Jack-- lived in the sewers where he talked to God butt naked (the Punisher hid in a warehouse in the comics). Now I’ve heard two rumors as to why this entry didn’t try too hard to be akin to its source material. The first had to do with screenwriter Boaz Yakin and producer Robert Kamen clashing heavily (which led to Boaz being fired and re-written by Kamen). The other had to with Marvel Comics giving the producers a “restricted license” on the property, where they were solely allowed to use the title and the character, but not the more specific details. Whatever the case, this is the dish that we got as a result and although it did alter or omit the specifics that make The Punisher...the damn Punisher (!!), I still feel it came through in emulating the comic in two crucial aspects.
First, I must high-five the casting of Dolph Lundgren in the titular role. Along with "Rocky 4" and "Universal Soldier", this was one my favorite performances from the man. I totally bought his insanity via his soulless eyes, his underlying intensity and his “Stallone in Cobra”-like drawl. Dolph was also mucho credible when handling a multitude of firearms or showing off his hand-to-hand combat skills. Lundgren’s own training background (third-degree Karate black belt) was quite the asset to the film’s believability factor where the mano-a-mano bits were gritty and looked real. The same can be said about his daunting appearance. The 6'5" actor had the imposing stature and the square jaw that fit the “Punish” bill to a “P”. One thing though...what was that fake beard all about, man? If you can’t grow it, don’t fake it. You know how many times Lundgren’s mascara beard wound up traveling his face? Although hilarious for the wrong reasons...it did become distracting.
The second aspect in which this puppy spun off the comic admirably was in the excessive (I love that word) violence department. Movies couldn’t get away with this kind of nastiness today! I’m talking about kids getting slapped or having knives put to their throats, a multitude of sharp instruments launched into people’s craniums, one brutal choking (that chick…ouch) and machine gun slaughters of epic proportion (over 100 people die in this film). You want a body count? YOU GOT ONE! The groovy “wham-bam” factor was also jacked up by the presences of director Mark Goldblatt, who happens to be the editor of action classics such as "The Terminator", "Terminator 2", "Rambo 2" and "Commando". You know what that means, varmints? That means the action was not only relentless, but it was also cut tighter than a virgin’s pie-hole and I lapped it up fervently.
What about the plot? Was there even one? Well, the screenplay was actually fairly well written (loved them Castle monologues!) and I got enough meat here to keep the BBQ going. The mob/Yakusa conflict was interesting enough, the inclusion of children as tools was a ballsy and effective move and the Frank/Jake subplot, although a tad undeveloped for my taste, still hit home. It should be said that mucho tinkering in the editing room had a lot to do with the weakening of that latter relationship, with scenes establishing the friendship, Jake’s struggle with the bottle and his tie to Frank’s family hitting the floor. We luckily saw a hint of it in the stellar scene in which Frank and Jake are reunited for the first time (some great acting there). That sequence always gets me. But it's too bad, I wanted more of what was the heart of the story!
On the blank side of the ammo, the biggest drawback here was that the narrative didn’t explore Castle’s immediate need for revenge against the a-holes that killed his family. Since the flick took place five years after the fact, Frank’s potentially gripping mourning period and his overwhelming need for payback were lost. For the first film off a comic book adaptation...I felt that was a BIG ASS no-no. What a poor introduction to a “new” world! We also had the low production values, which were very apparent in terms of the ‘Paper Mache”-like sets in the house. The "blah" settings took away from the impact of some of the situations. I also don’t think shooting the film in Sydney, Australia was the best of ideas. The Punisher comics are set in and feel like New York. Can somebody freakin' shoot it in New York already? (even the upcoming 2004 version was shot in Tampa, Florida…bugh).
We also had the useless parts of Jake’s new partner Sam (Everhard) and The Punisher’s poor “micro-substitute” sidekick Shake (Otto). Sam was semi-bearable in a Nancy Allen light kind of way, but Shake got on my freaking nerves hardcore. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trust a man who talks in prose and who’s swindled by a bottle of booze on a remote control truck. Would you?! COME ON!
And why did this uber-violent flick lose its testicles in one instance? Yes, I mean the Casino mop-up! Although seeing Dolphy mow down slot machines (it seems he freaking despises slot machines) was a hoot in its own right, seeing him mow down people ALONG with the slot machines would’ve been way more satisfying. Lastly, we had the lame “funny” one-liners (not required) and usual dumb-dumb villain wrong moves. You know how it goes, they don’t take out their guns when they should, they don’t kill the hero when they get the chance (whiffs of James Bond) or they fall for the “take a leak” routine from a cuffed prisoner. MORONS!
When the end credits rolled, I was somewhat let down by the flick as a Punisher adaptation, but had a blast with it as a straight-forward action bonanza. I had forgotten just how much fun this film was for the right and the wrong reasons! Testosterone fare fans take note! This one’s a worth a stab! IT'S PUNISH TIME!
This flick should’ve been called “50 Ways to Kill your Criminal”. Blood flowed freely here with peeps being choked, stabbed, shot, cut, knifed, shot gunned, mowed down…you name it, it goes down here. Fun times for the whole family…grandpa Joe too!
Dolph Lundgren (The Punisher) had the look, the bulging triceps and the underlying intensity for the role, in what was one of his most underrated performances. Lundgren never got the due he deserved in terms of his acting chops, so I’m doing my part right here in giving them to him. GOOD SHIT DOLPH! Just because the man has an accent and a buffed up body, doesn’t mean he can’t act, you close minded buffoons! Oscar winner Louis Gossett Junior (Jake) gave a very strong show as the pain stricken ex-partner. The man was "on" and dare I say...going for another statuette? Oscar nominee Jeroen Krabbe (Gianni) was excellent as the charismatic Mob boss...his facial expressions to the Punisher's quips were gold! Kim Miyori (Lady Tanaka) gave a chilling display as the cold-hearted beeyatch. Although Nancy Everhard (Sam) and Barry Otto (Shake) did what they had to do...both roles were quite worthless and therefore a pain in the butt to watch.
T & A
We get a couple of loosely dressed dames, a quick tit shot and the ladies get a nude Dolph Lundgren. Sorry ladies, he’s not tanned in this one, but you do get to see his pale butt crack though. Dig in!
Goldblatt's experience as an action movie editor was very apparent when watching the action scenes in all of their various set-ups. They were all tightly and stylishly shot! The man also went ape-shite in the tracking shot department giving the flick a very lively feel! The able directing almost fully compensated for the cheap production values at hand.
The badass score by Dennis Dreith served the film well, where it often gave more weight to the brutal happenings going down.
"The Punisher" (1989) was an adequately written and acted vigilante opus. It didn’t fully cut it as a Punisher movie, but it did tap into its heart of a psychotic/broken man on the hunt and its soul of extreme brutality. Sure, the sets were cheap, the location not New York enough, some of it a tad cheesy and the mascara beard, hilariously pathetic...but if you’re a fan of Lundgren and fine action/body-count movies, you should give this Big P a call. He’ll deliver for you in the senseless mayhem department and snap your neck for dessert! I’d like to end with my fav exchange from the film: Jake: What the fuck do you call 125 murders in 5 years? The Punisher: Work in progress. YEAH, BITCH!
The Punisher made his comic book debut in Amazing Spiderman #129, published in February, 1974.
Stupid sight gag: Why the fuck is the baddie dude on the stretcher wearing red high heel shoes? Somebody was smoking up on set!
The Punisher was Dolph Lundgren's third starring role. He co-wrote The Punisher monologues and he did 95% of his own stunts.
Excerpt of a Boaz Yakin letter to Comics Scene: "Another point I fought for was keeping the skull on the Punisher's shirt--which Kamen and Goldblatt dismiss with statements such as "When you put Dolph Lundgren in spandex, you gotta watch out, cause he'd look pretty silly." Please. In my script, he wore almost exactly what he wears in the film, only he spray-painted a skull onto his T-shirt. At a certain point, I gave up on the skull for most of the film, and had him spray-paint a kevlar vest just for the climactic sequence. Even that was rejected by the producer as being "too comic-booky." The fact is, there is a way to do comics on film and maintain their integrity, but the producers of this film have, sadly, little respect for the medium they were adapting."
From Dolph Lundgren’s Official Site: Dolph brought two fighters in from his old Karate school in Tokyo to act/fight in the film. The problem was that they didn’t realize that it was only a movie and they fought for real. You see, the fighters had a Japanese code of honor where if they didn’t perform well enough, their honor would be at stake. Performing well meant beating Dolph to a pulp. Dolph went on to say that at least the fight scenes looked good.