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IN SHORT: For fanboys only. [Rated R for Pervasive Brutal Violence, Language and Brief Nudity. 124 minutes]
We will note, before we begin, that we know more about the Punisher character than most reviewers. We still read it. We also recognize that most of the script to this movie -- some characters and some plot situations -- is lifted from the work of Warren Ellis and Steve Dillon who do not receive credit. That's due to a legal thing called "work for hire" and, while everything is above board, we believe they should get their due. From here on in, it's back to the Primary Rule of this site: you shouldn't have to know the Source Material to understand the story. You don't. On the other hand, the delivery of the story -- all of it -- comes with the same feeling you get when a heavy weight is dropped on your chest. It is oppressive. It fails to find its own level of humor or emotion. It doesn't make you care for the hero or cheer when the bad guys go down. It is a lead weight tied around the feet of the poor saps who shell out money to see it. So let us put it this way:
For he so loved his family that he was murdered and then returned to take vengeance on those who didst kill them.
OK, that should bring $300 millions, easy.
When first seen, Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is ending his days as an undercover FBI Special Ops Agent. Unfortunately, his last case is one involving smuggled weapons and results in the death of John Saint (James Carpinello), son of Florida multi-zillionaire Howard Saint (John Travolta). Saint made his money selling cars and uses that as a cover for a money laundering operation for the prostitution and drug dealing of a pair of Cuban thugs. Business is good. His consigliere, Quentin Glass (Will Patton), oversees the army of black clad enforcers who protect the money of the Saint family operations, as well as Howard's wife Livia (Laura Elena Harring) and remaining son, Bobby (also Carpinello). Livia has told her loving hubbie that she wants total revenge for John's death. When Saint breaks Frank's cover and tracks him down, it is at a family reunion where a slaughter of innocents occurs, with Frank being the last to die.
It is a sloppy piece of killing. Frank is not dead. Frank is determined to punish the Saints, since his own people do nothing in the five months it takes him to recover and resurface. Holed in up in a rundown Tampa, Florida tenement, his neighbors: a waitress called Joan (Rebecca Romijn), the very heavyset Mr. Bumpo (John Pinette) and Bumpo's "room mate," a very pierced Spacker Dave (Ben Foster) soon become Frank's family and willing protectors. Dumb civilians.
That's just the setup, folks. By the time you get all that stuff out of the way and get to the meat of the story, and there is a wee bit of meat to the story, it doesn't come close to building a three dimensional situation. Frank is supposed to come to rely on and defend his new family even as he takes apart the family of his enemy.
Writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh's script and direction can't seem to decide which one of the Saints to make more vicious. Neither does he give us reason to care for the "good" characters.Frank never cracks a smile. He doesn't care for 'em, why should we?
Hensleigh does treat us oldsters to the sight of Roy Scheider as Frank's Father and armorer, early on. He lifts two characters from the comic books -- musical assassin Harry Heck (Mark Collie) and the seven foot walking mass of muscle called The Russian (Kevin Nash) -- for the fanboys, but revealing how he screws up those lifts violate the Prime Directive.
As for the kill sequences, they're everything we would have loved were we still the impressionable sixteen year old reader. The Punisher comics are labeled not for kids, after all. Even with a very well conceived bit of smoke and mirrors story-writing, destined to drive one character up the proverbial mental wall and one very impressive shot of a flaming skull, we weren't. Impressed.
For those that don't read 'em, there's enough story here to munch on. Problem is that it's laid on with all the subtlety of a flying mallet.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Punisher, he would have paid . . .
Again, The Punisher is for fanboys only. Everyone else rent
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