“The Punisher” Review

If movies were meat, “The Punisher” would be beef jerky – cheap, tasteless, and cut and dried.

Thomas Jane stars in this Marvel comic-to-movie and bulked up sufficiently for the part that I thought the character should have been renamed TorsoMan. For a character whose costume is basically a t-shirt, he spends an inordinately large portion of the film with his shirt off. Considering the audience is almost entirely young males, and mostly teens at that, who exactly is this aimed at?

Jane’s character, Frank Castle, is an undercover cop of some sort and kills the son of crime boss Howard Saint, played tepidly by John Travolta. Saint in turn executes Castle’s entire family tree, and, although being shot directly in the chest at close range, Castle survives thanks to his witch doctor (no, really!) and comes back for revenge wearing the black skull t-shirt his son gave to him in a “so cheesy I thought I was in Wisconsin” piece of foreshadowing.

There is, of course, the requisite ragtag band of ‘losers’ that accept Castle as one of their own. One is some sort of drug addict who’s into piercings, another is your generic fat guy, and then there’s the sexy love interest, supermodel Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, who lives down the hall.

I’d read a review on Amazon that suggested Travolta’s performance was ‘over the top.’ Please! Over the top would’ve been welcome (unless of course we’re talking about the 1987 arm-wrestling vehicle for Sylvester Stallone). Howard Saint is evidently supposed to be a coolly detached criminal who kills both employees and family at the drop of a hat with steely resolve, but Travolta just ends up looking bored. I’m with ya there Johnny boy!

(The music major in me would also like to note that I noticed an eerie similarity to the Travolta character’s musical theme, and that of Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies. Listen closely and you’ll know I’m right.)

The movie is entirely predictable. Here’s an example of the trite dialogue that makes me want to write director Jonathan Hensleigh and ask for my $3.69 back:

Punisher to leggy supermodel – “Read your newspaper every day and you’ll understand.”

Leggy supermodel – “Which section?”

(Can you hear it coming?)

Punisher – “The obituaries.”

The whole movie is like that! It’s like it was penned by some teenage boys in detention who were forced into some sort of group creative writing assignment.

But here’s the thing that bothered me the most – for a movie about a deranged revenge seeker who’s stockpiling guns like Charlton Heston is coming to dinner, the “hero enters with guns blazing” moment doesn’t come until 1:43:42 into the movie. And it’s only a two-hour movie!

No no, our hero brings down the bad guy by convincing him that his wife is sleeping with his right hand man. Travolta then kills both himself while laying on puns usually reserved for the muscle-bound hero. Of course Castle gets everyone else in the end and saves his 21 car-bomb salute for Travolta.

Listen, if you want to see a good revenge flick, rent “Kill Bill”. Both volumes! But if you want to see angry guys in dark rooms lit only by the neon filtered through the fan in their window, people being thrown to their deaths through rickety railings (honestly, note to bad guys in movies – stay away from the railings!), and thunder and lightning punctuating “dramatic” turns of phrase, even when it’s not raining, then “The Punisher” is the movie for you!

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