Reviewed by: Harvey S. Karten
LGE Films/Marvel Studios
Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh
Written by: Johathan Hensleigh, Michael France
Cast: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Roy Scheider, Laura Harring, Ben Foster, Samantha Mathis, James Carpinello, John Pinette, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
Screened at: Loews E-Walk, NYC, 4/18/04
Don't think that because the title character regularly drinks Wild Turkey, he's making a subtle statement of opinion about this movie. Though Jonathan Hensleigh's "The Punisher" rips off "High Noon," "Kill Bill 1 & 2," "Hulk," even Shakespeare's "Othello" and countless other films, comic book-adapted or otherwise, this is a fun pic with comic relief (however inappropriate and prolix) and a cast of villains led by John Travolta who mean business and who mash the hero up quite a bit. This is a revenge movie masquerading as (according to Tom Jane in the role of Frank Castle) a punishment drama, by which Frank means to say that he is not an avenger after all but simply a punisher. If you can tell the difference, please let me know. Also inform me why the spell-check on my WordPerfect underlines the word "punisher" every time I use it as if to say, "Huh? That's a word?"
The advantage Henleigh's project has over its leading competitor for your entertainment dollar, "Hellboy" which opened one week earlier is that though this is a comic-book adaptation, there are no monsters aside from the moral ones. Nor would an audience member who hadn't read a comic cover to cover since the early days of "Superman" "Captain Marvel" or "Wonder Woman" even guess that the story bears that subgenre. Yes, it may be true that Jane acts his role in a stiff Arnold-style way, but first-assistant villain Will Patton in the role of Quentin Glass makes up for that deficiency with panache.
Frank Castle, who first made the comic scene in 1974 as a hero in "The Amazing Spider-Man," is an FBI agent whom a drug-and-prostitution tycoon ironically named Howard Saint (John Travolta) blames for the death of his son during a sting operation. When his entire family Frank's dad (played by Roy Scheider), his wife Maria (Samantha Mathis) and others are murdered by assault rifles, bombs and vehicle hit-and-run, Castle dismayed that his FBI had not arrested a single perp in five months takes the law into his own hands. Like Uma Thurman's Beatrix Kiddo in "Kill Bill 1 & 2," Castle marks for vengeance any and all of the murderous gang, from higher-ups like Quentin Glass to the more ordinary member of Saint's infantry. You may be able to guess the identity of the last person to be caught in the view of Castle's guns.
"The Punisher" delivers per expectations: a charismatic hero and chief villain, the former a dashing, muscular type content with being shot, stabbed, thrown against walls; the latter a bespoke multimillionaire who in one instance has a debt to a drug supplier of $50 million dollars and thinks of that as small change.
Chases and overturned cars, weapons ranging from a genuine Bowie knife to bows and arrows, pistols to assault rifles, a woman (Joan, played by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) who has a perfect figure, a beautiful face, and is a caring, empathetic supporter who can even stitch up a bad knife wound but works in a greasy spoon see 'em all within the two hours plus tenure of the movie.
There's an unfortunate series of scenes thrown in for comic relief featuring an obese fellow who sings Donna e mobile to his well-pierced idiotic but loyal friend (Dave and Mr. Bumpo, played by Ben Foster and John Pinette) that could be excised, thereby shortening the 124 minutes to a taut 100 or so. With its fast pace, "The Punisher" gives none in the audience a chance to think and calculate plot holes all over the place, but look for a sequel given the statement by Frank Castle that he is going to dedicate his life to punishing criminals throughout the land.
Rated R. 124 minutes.(c) 2004 by Harvey Karten at Harveycritic@cs.com
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