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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.03%
Worth A Look: 12.12%
Average: 6.06%
Pretty Bad39.39%
Total Crap39.39%

4 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Punisher: War Zone
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by Erik Childress

"Just As They Are Getting Closer, It's Still Probably Time For Retirement"
2 stars

I know comic fans won’t want to hear this, but they may agree that it may finally be time to close the book on The Punisher having a successful big screen career. Like Captain America and The Fantastic Four under the Golan-Globus reign, Frank Castle couldn’t make it into theaters even at the height of Dolph Lundgren’s star power. Ah, those were the days. When he finally got a few bucks behind him in 2004, the result was so seriously lame that the abomination of what the character had become forced friends of mine to brand Thomas Jane’s portrayal as The Aggravator than his more forceful moniker. Now along comes Ray Stevenson. And let’s all say that again – RAY. STEVENSON. A relative unknown outside of viewers of HBO’s defunct Rome, Stevenson is part of the last-ditch effort to re-re-boot the potential franchise (and can you think of three cinematic incarnations of the same character that won’t even acknowledge its previous ones?) It’s a shame to include Stevenson in any part of the mocking that these series of films so rightly deserves, because for the first time they were actually close to at least getting HIM right, if not a cohesive whole of a movie.

Viewers are given a little refresher course to The Punisher’s backstory through Detective Martin Soap (Dash Mihok) who apparently has aided Castle’s rampage through tips and looking the other way when necessary. We don’t even get a moving flashback but rather one in still frame photographs somehow conveniently shot at the moment his family was slain at a picnic after having witnessed a mob hit. Since then Frank has killed any baddie that moves, assisted by a Q-like partner in Micro (Wayne Knight) and hiding out in an underground lair that I assume is a timeshare with Blade.

The Punisher’s latest adversary is Billy “The Beaut” Russoti (Dominic West), a mob enforcer obsessed with his looks that is thrown into a glass bottle shredder until he emerges severely scarred and in need a name change to Jigsaw. During Frank’s assault on Russoti’s people, he (not-so-accidentally) takes out an undercover FBI agent making a widow of his wife, Angela (Julie Benz) and getting his daughter, Grace (Stephanie Janusauskas) one step closer to being an orphan. Jigsaw will try and get the kid all the way there as he threatens what’s left of their family, along with his psychotic brother, Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchinson), for the cash her husband grabbed from them on the eve of his murder. The Punisher takes to protecting the wife and child while being hunted himself by Agent Paul Budiansky (Colin Salmon) who can’t see past the file room full of dead bodies that Castle is making his job a lot easier.

There’s also some nonsensical side plot about Jigsaw doing business with and subsequently trying to trap a foreign terrorist, leading to a lot of shameless talk about New York and terror alerts. Frank has the occasional attack of conscience that leads him to say things like “sometimes I’d like to get my hands on God,” but that’s really about the height of non-expositional dialogue by Nick Santora, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway. Most movies don’t need an exploding head to wake you up - especially if you’ve already seen two or three - but Punisher War Zone is deadly dull in-between the scenes of violence, which to the credit of director Lexi Alexander are actually well-employed. None of them are especially impressive as designed set pieces, but The Punisher is less a strategist and more just shoot anything that moves kinda guy.

And on that level, Punisher War Zone, will spark up fans of the character who were wondering why their favorite torture-hungry murderer was aggravating suspects with popsicles. There’s no playing around this time. Frank Castle is slashing throats, killing unarmed men and literally punching into their faces. Any fears that Lions Gate was going to be trimming this down to a PG-13 can be lifted without reservation as I suspect whatever editor they brought in to give it a go just gave up after the opening massacre. Any conossieur of carnage will find instant appreciation in Castle’s methods in this film. But without the context of Frank’s pain to seriously draw from, the character becomes no different than any Schwarzenegger (or Dolph Lungren) character from the ‘80s and by the closing action scene were already a bit numbed out by the violence and it becomes just another splatter film instead of giving us reason to care about the splatter.

I will hand it to Lexi Alexander though. It took a balls-to-the-wall woman behind the camera to give Frank Castle any semblance of the remorseless edge that even the writer of the testosterone-fueled Armageddon and Die Hard with a Vengeance couldn’t deliver on. She still has a ways to go on crafting a set piece that doesn’t just depend on shooting and punching (which she also delivered upon in Green Street Hooligans) but this is a far cry above such underwhelming garbage like Max Payne, Hitman and the overedited stylings of the Transporter series. I can appreciate a no-nonsense justice-seeker like Frank Castle happy to shoot first and then shoot again for good measure, but the bar on vigilantism has been raised with Christian Bale in the Bat suit and The Punisher needs to be more of a person than just another character. Throughout the film, even though she adds nothing to it, I kept feeling for Julie Benz who is to killing machines what kidnapped and murdered wives are to Harrison Ford. Just in 2008 alone, she has hung out with Frank Castle, traveled through Burmese with John Rambo, continued to date Dexter Morgan on television and had to survive not one, but two encounters with a psychopath named Jigsaw. In the spirit of teaming up franchises, if Lions Gate were to continue reviving hope with The Punisher, maybe the next time around he can protect the winner from VH-1 Scream Queens against the other Jigsaw in Saw VI. The film would probably only last about four minutes, but what’s the old phrase about everybody’s a winner?

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originally posted: 12/05/08 16:00:00
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User Comments

9/02/14 Doug suckage 2 stars
11/04/11 The Big D Stink, Stank, Stunk; Steenque, Stanque, Stunque! 1 stars
11/16/10 mr.mike Ray is just adequate , movie better than the first. 4 stars
11/12/09 Bnorm It was not a good movie per se...but it was entertaining. 4 stars
7/08/09 sbninja lots of action, but it is a totally new Punisher film - not a sequel to the last Punisher 3 stars
4/03/09 Raul Valdez Jr i give this a 3.5 cause i like the action but the story went to crap GREAT VILLIAN 3 stars
1/15/09 Shaun Wallner Intense Action! 5 stars
12/09/08 johnnybgoode More true to the comic roots than any other Punisher movie. 4 stars
12/06/08 Terry Plot is re-cycled but its a Punisher flick- stylish comic book action. 4 stars
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  05-Dec-2008 (R)
  DVD: 17-Mar-2009


  DVD: 17-Mar-2009

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