The Punisher (2004)
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Review Date: April 12, 2004
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Writer: Jonathan Hensleigh, Michael France
Producers: Gale Anne Hurd
Thomas Jane as The Punisher
John Travolta as Howard Saint
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as Joan
An ex-cop who finally quits the force to spend more time with his lovely wife and cute kid ends up on the wrong side of the law when some baddies from his past murder his entire family, from top to bottom. Armed with an extra-small T-shirt, bulging biceps and plenty of "street smarts", the man sets out to "punish" those who did wrong onto him and his...
THE PUNISHER is not a good movie. Now that I got that out of the way, let's try to figure out why, yet again, Hollywood was not able to create a decent motion picture from the seemingly ripe premise of a man bent on avenging his family's demise with guns, ammo, knives, a cool T-shirt and fisticuffs in tow (Dolph Lundgren starred in the 1989 adaptation of the comic book) First off, allow me to point out some of the film's strengths with its opening twenty minutes establishing a good base from which the character could grow/explode, certain scenes packing a punch (particularly one in which the Punisher faces down a Russian opponent) and Thomas Jane looking the part, despite appearing shirtless in more scenes than a gay porno (not that there's anything wrong with that!) In fact, this might be "my own shit" going on, but I'm quite sure that one could write a serious term paper on the homosexual under/overtones in this movie. But I digress. That said, what simply does not work in this film is its tone, which oscillates between the serious and campy, its action sequences, which are far and few between, especially for a movie which stars a man out to kill everyone, its many, many, many plot holes, all of which you can laughingly recount over some drinks with your friends after your screening and its weak characterizations, chief among them being the man better known as Frank Castle, who we simply do not get to know much after the solid opening, drowned out by emphasis on a variety of "kooky" secondary characters.

Why on God's green earth anyone decided that a subplot about Travolta's right-hand man and his hottie wife would be of interest to anyone looking for a fun, action movie about a man and his thirst for guns and revenge, is beyond me! I mention that particular unnecessary piece of the puzzle because it also features Castle at his least interesting-- taking the time to play "MacGyver", a paparazzi and a private dick, all at the same time. Dude...lock and load, man...lock and load!! The film's also packed with some pretty horrid dialogue ("I asked you to avenge our son...and you did"-followed by a make-out session), a bevy of incompetent henchmen who apparently need little else than to suit up in black to let us know that they're "bad", a number of over-the-top "campy" moments that simply did not belong in this movie (not to give anything away, but one of the last scenes features major explosions ending in an overhead shot that simply has to be seen...to be laughed at...hilariously bad!) and most disappointing of all, perfunctory action sequences, which should have been the film's backbone, but are quite unmemorable instead. I think the movie's biggest problem is that it simply wasn't able to balance its tones correctly, leading to certain scenes attempting to convey actual emotion, while others felt like cute homages to films like EL MARIACHI and THE GODFATHER 2 (I knew it was you, Fredo!) and ridiculous sing-a-longs with goofy "movie neighbors". It felt like a bad episode of "Miami Vice" at times...

I stopped taking most of it seriously after a while and was able to enjoy some of it on a "cheesy" level, but even then, it was still bad overall. The actors were "okay" for the most part, but most seemed to be acting "with" something: Jane with his pecs, Patton with his Fu-Manchu, Harring with her luscious boobs, Travolta with his hair and Jane (once again) with his tight-ass T-shirts! I had a fun time discussing this film with some buddies after the film, if only because we came up with about a zillion things that were wrong with it (although in its defense, it had its "moments" like every scene featuring Castle with a glass of Wild Turkey at his lips-much like the Arrow every morning -- and one of the final scenes featuring a flashback to his wife), like "Where the fuck were the cops in this town?" and "How come everyone in the world seemed to know where the Punisher lived, but did nothing about it?" and "Were the filmmakers too cheap to hire any extras for the film...it's a friggin' ghost town!" I could go on and on with shit like that, but I'll let you enjoy some of it either on DVD or a drunken evening with your buds (and I ain't talking about your buddies, either!) In fact, take a shot every time Castle goes shirtless...trust me, you'll be dead drunk before you know it! Disappointing, action-light, B-flick with sparks of interest, but a general overdose of mismatched tone and unremarkable entertainment value. Rent PAYBACK instead...now there's a gritty, urban, revenge classic! PS: You lost me at Tampa, Florida.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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