Thursday, March 19, 2009


When The Punisher movie was released I didn’t see it, I didn’t want to. I had been put through the ringer twice with Punisher movies and I was convinced that he was simply not a character you could bring to life. The first Punisher movie with Dolph Lundgren was a joke, not even a good joke, more like one without a punch line. The second attempt was a better film but it wasn’t the Punisher it was Vigilante Man disguised as The Punisher. Frank Castle (aka The Punisher) lost like thirty members of his family instead of three, the movie was set in Florida instead of New York and he took on a mobster played by John Travolta. Not exactly compelling filmmaking.

With both of those movies falling so short of the mark this third Punisher movie didn’t interest me at all. Then during the filming there were all these rumors that the movie was being shot like a first person shooter, that there was no score for the film just a dozen or so heavy metal songs (neither turned out to be true). Finally the rumor began that the film was so bad it was taken away from director Lexi Alexander by the film company re-shot and re-edited. All of these things kept me home and from the Box Office returns most other people stayed away as well. When the DVD came out I decided to rent it and see how bad it was and yep, it’s really bad.

The thing that sucks is that Punisher War Zone could have been a really good time roller coaster film. The movie was never going to be great but it could have been fun. Instead it’s an ultra-violent mess that manages to show tons of blood and guts while at the same time de-balling The Punisher almost entirely. At the end of the day that’s what really ruins this movie and by and large ruined all the Punisher movies, trying to humanize the main character.

As far as plot goes there really isn’t one. Punisher (Ray Stevenson) is killing criminals, lots of criminals. During his war he accidentally kills an undercover FBI agent and dumps a mob boss named Billy Russoti (Dominic West) into a bottle crusher thus ripping his face apart and giving birth to Jigsaw. Jigsaw breaks his insane brother Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison) out of the psycho ward to help him kill The Punisher. Jigsaw is also gunning for the family of the undercover agent convinced the agent kept money Jigaw had given to him when they still worked together. Take that, mix in some bullets and explosions and you have Punisher Warzone.

Let’s start with what works in the movie. First off, at least until he loses his nuts, Ray Stevenson is a great Punisher. He’s a tall, dark, hulking man who kills with an ease that the Punisher would have. He doesn’t make funny quips or involve himself in lengthy revenge plots, he just shoots, stabs and breaks criminals necks. The other thing that works is the first twenty minutes was is a highly saturated violent comic book style movie. If the director and writers had left it as that this would have been a really good time at the movies. Like a Rambo movie or Commando, just a fun mindless shoot ‘em up.

Sadly that isn’t what we get and outside of Stevenson and the first twenty minutes nothing else works in this movie at all. The first problem is the villain, who sucks. I loved Dominic West in The Wire but he’s a complete train wreck here. At some point somebody told him that the way to show everybody you were a mafia villain was to study an SNL sketch involving an over-the-top Robert De Niro parody and then do that times ten.

The other problem is that Dominic West is a British actor who tries so hard to have an “Italian Mob” accent that it’s way, way over the top. I’m guessing to keep it from being noticeable the director told the rest of the mobsters to overdo their Italian Mob accent so what you get is a huge group of overblown “Italian” mobsters. Put those two things together and Jigsaw is silly, not scary, not crazy, just silly. You can’t have a silly villain and expect anybody to care.

The second problem is Jigsaw’s brother Loony Bin Jim. Doug Hutchinson decided at some point his character was super “CRAZY” and everything he did would be “CRAZY”. You know how you can tell he’s “CRAZY” because Loony Bin Jim opens his eyes up wide in that “CRAZY” eye way. He also talks “CRAZY” and laughs “CRAZY’! In fact everything he does is so “CRAZY” that he ceases to be a threat and starts to become a joke. So you have one silly villain and one joke, see where the problem comes in?

I was particularly pissed that after spending the entire film building up this epic battle between Punisher and Loony Bin Jim it’s the most anticlimactic thing ever. It literally lasts two minutes and then Jim runs off like a cat that’s realized he needs to be in the next room urgently. Outside of the bad villains comes this ridiculous plot device where the Punisher is all torn up about killing the undercover agent and so he sits around brooding. The Punisher doesn’t brood; he’s too busy killing people. Punisher wouldn’t stop what he’s doing or cry over the dead undercover agent. He’d say he was sorry he shot him but the guy knew the risks. Then he’d pick up his gun and start blowing people away.

Instead of that we’re forced to watch Punisher cry, bond with the dead agents little daughter and even eventually win over the wife. Any and every scene involving dramatic moments between Punisher, the little girl and the wife are awful. When I say awful I mean professional wrestling awful. It’s that level of acting badness.

Humanizing the Punisher doesn’t work because that’s the point, the human side of him died with his family. The only thing that remains is the killer side of him who feels nothing and doesn’t get all mushy with kids and widows. Watching those scenes made me long for the Dolph Lundgren version, how fucked up is THAT!!

Other problems with the film stem from sub-plots started that go absolutely nowhere. The one-man task force who is supposed to bring the Punisher in is actually working with him. That is revealed in such a ham-fisted way that you almost miss it. There’s also a sub-plot about the dead agent’s partner who wants to take Punisher down but then ends up helping him. This might have worked if not for two reasons.

The first is that the actor playing the partner sucks and sucks badly. Clearly he graduated from the Heavy Sigh and Put-My-Hand-On-My-Head-To-Show-Emotion school of acting and it shines through. The other problem is that having a black ex-partner who used to have a substance abuse problem that wants to bring Punisher down but ends up helping him brings about shades of Louis Gossett JR in the Dolph Lundgren Punisher movie.

Why would you do that?

The final sub-plot that goes nowhere involves Jigsaw selling a bio-weapon (a glowing blue liquid that looks like a designer cocktail) to a Russian mobster. When Jigsaw double-crosses him the mobster’s father swears revenge. It looks as if the dad is going to use his men to help Punisher during the big final stand off but instead Mobster Dad kills a bunch of Asian criminals and goes home. WHAT? Oh and let’s not forget that the final stand off takes place in a giant, fully functioning, abandoned hotel in New York City. Oh yeah, those are all over the place in the big NYC. What makes all of this worse, the final cherry on this shit sundae is that three writers are credited for this movie.

I will repeat that.

THREE WRITERS are credited for writing a movie that’s only a stone’s throw away from a coloring book. As far as extras there is commentary, which is boring because you don’t care at all about the movie. There’s a making of which really tells you nothing deeper about the film but that’s mainly because the film isn’t deep to begin with. There’s a thirty second segment about the Punisher’s weapons which is kind of cool but the thirty second “Meet Jigsaw” about the make up process is wasted because the make up looks awful.

I wouldn’t buy this movie and I couldn’t even suggest it as a rental. Wait for a month and I’m sure it’ll be on USA or TNT and you can watch it for free. Even then maybe Tivo it so you can watch it in shifts because a one attempt viewing is a hard hustle. I hope this third strike will force Hollywood to leave the Punisher in the pages of comic books where he belongs.

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