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4 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Punisher: War Zone
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Homeless Dad ISN'T The Punisher"
1 stars

I know that I saw “The Punisher,” the big-screen adaptation of the super-violent Marvel comic book, when it came out in 2004, but without going back to look at my original review to refresh my memory, there are only a few things about it that I remember with any clarity. I recall the bizarre notion that one of the Punisher’s elaborate plans to destroy one of his enemies required him to carry around a fire hydrant at one point. I remember that despite the fact that the film was about a remorseless vigilante gaining brutal revenge on those who wronged him, it seemed as if the filmmakers were pulling their punches in regards to the violence in what I can only assume was an ill-advised attempt to give viewers a more audience-friendly Punisher. I remember that the occasion of the film’s release allowed me to interview the lovely Laura Harring, who regaled me with numerous amusing stories about working with people as varied as David Lynch, Menahem Golan and Bob Dylan. Finally, I remember that while the film was pretty terrible, it at least had the distinction of being slightly better than the really awful 1989 take on the material that starred the redoubtable Dolph Lundgren in the title role.

Well, it has only been a few hours since I have seen “Punisher: War Zone,” the extra-gory part-continuation, part-reboot of the franchise and there are still only a few things about it that I recall with any clarity. I recall that the wildly elaborate plans devised by the Punisher the first time around, the kind of overly complicated schemes that even Rube Goldberg himself might have suggested a few simplifications. I recall the fact that whatever qualms the studio may have previously held about the gore quotient have evidently been cured because this is one of the bloodiest films to come along in a while. Finally, I recall that while this atrocity is even worse than the 2004 version, if such a thing is possible, I have to grudgingly admit that while it is as foul, vile and stupid as all get out, it is still somewhat better than the Dolph Lundgren version.

For those of you who have lived joy-filled lives in which exposure to the Punisher has been minimal at best, the character, also known as Frank Castle, is a seemingly indestructible former Special Forces soldier whose entire family was wiped out by gangsters for reasons that vary depending on what version of the origin story you are following. Whichever one, the end result is the same--Castle, now outfitted with a skull-emblazoned T-shirt and an arsenal large and powerful enough to give John Milius pause, becomes a vigilante whom roams the streets night after night blowing the heads off of every bad guy that the police are just too darned busy to brutally slaughter themselves. As this story kicks off, Castle has been painting the streets of New York red (with occasional flecks of grey) for four years and he is about to demolish another Mob family on the occasion of its head somehow being set free by the namby-pamby courts despite being responsible for over 200 murders. He single-handedly decimates virtually the entire family and eludes the cops that have surrounded him but, as with many vigilante missions, there are a couple of loose ends. For starters, one of the men that he indiscriminately kills turns out to be an undercover federal agent. For another things, pretty-boy gangster Billy “The Beaut” Russoti (Dominic West) somehow survives being put stuck in the business end of a glass-recycling machine, a move that causes his once-striking face to closely resemble a fan boy’s “Maniac Cop” Halloween outfit. When Russoti’s is unable to get his plastic surgeon to restore his looks (or even adequately cover up the makeup seams), he decides to rename himself Jigsaw (apparently the go-to name for any sadist in a Lionsgate production), reunite with his even-crazier brother, the liver-eating Looney Bin Jim (Doug Hutchinson) and go after both Castle, whose guilt about having killed an innocent man among the thousands of not-so-innocents has inspired him to hang up his six thousand six-shooters, and the wife (Julie Benz) and daughter (Stephanie Janusauskas) of that innocent man. Luckily, Castle snaps out of his crisis of consciousness just in time to collect his arsenal and mow down the army of thugs Jigsaw has hired in a final section that contains enough over-the-top gore to make the second half of “Rambo” look staid and refined by comparison.

The combination of a plot involving a lone man single-handedly destroying an entire army of bad guys in revenge for a wrong done against his family and the slasher movie-levels of blood and guts on display have already led one Internet commentator to suggest that “Punisher: War Zone” comes across like a cross between a Steven Seagal film and “Friday the 13th”--albeit one of the direct-to-video craptaculars that Seagal has been grinding out for the last decade or so and one of the lesser and latter “Friday the 13th” films. Having seen “Punisher: War Zone” for myself, I have to sat that the aforementioned commentator is being woefully unfair to both Seagal’s DTV oeuvre and the later adventures of Jason Voorhees by comparing them to this claptrap. The screenplay was co-written by two of the people credited with writing the far-more-successful Marvel adaptation and their work here pretty much demonstrates that they should have a clause in their contracts insisting that Robert Downey Jr. appear in every one of their projects so that he can prop up their material. The script is completely useless--none of the characters demonstrate even the slightest glimmer of personality (no, not even the liver-eating loon), the storyline couldn’t be more trite and unsurprising, potentially interesting ideas are introduced and then dropped (after building towards a twisted final confrontation between Castle and Looney Bin Jim, a guy who, at one point, actually makes this more of an authentic vampire film than that “Twilight” flapdoodle, for most of its running time, the resolution is particularly disappointing) and it never even seems sure whether it is supposed to be a sequel (the story takes place four years into Castle’s reign of vengeance, the same amount of time since the previous film) or a reboot (there is no other reference to the previous film, none of the actors from that one appear and even the flashbacks to the origins of the Punisher tell a different story than what we saw in the earlier installment). The performances are similarly one-note; everyone speaks in the same low and grumbly voice that makes you silently give thanks that Sensurround never caught on in a big way. As for the violent action sequences (and bear in mind, this is the kind of film where the closest thing to a quiet and reflective moment comes when Castle jams a pencil up his broken nose to reset it), they are a mess in more ways than one--they are overcut to the point of incoherence and while the willingness to go for all-out bloodshed is amusing for a few minutes, the endless display of exploding heads and gouts of blatantly CGI gore grow so numbingly tiresome after a while that not even the sight of a sweet old lady with her head blown half off is able to inspire any kind of reaction.

In the last few months, “Punisher: War Zone” has been the subject of controversy, at least in those rarefied circles in which people actually talk about the likes of “Punisher: War Zone,” when it was reported that director Lexi Alexander, whose previous film was the odious soccer hooligan celebration “ has been removed from the project and that the studio was contemplating cutting it down to a PG-13 rating by removing most of the carnage in an effort to attract the kind of audience that prefers their violent vigilante fantasies to be not that violent. I’m not sure what exactly transpired or how it was resolved but based on the finished film, it would seem as if nothing much happened after all. After all, the combination of lame dramatic, dubious morality and poorly coordinated fight scenes is not markedly different from her previous effort. As for the whole PG-13 issue, I can’t imagine any way in which a film as brutal as this could have possibly been cut down in order to get a less restrictive rating--this is the kind of nastiness where not only do we get to see a still-alive baddie burning away while impaled on a steel pole, we even get a close-up of one of his eyeballs going up in CGI flames. If there is any real justice in the world--not just the crypto-fascist crap espoused here--the upcoming DVD will include a special featurette on the special effects artist behind that flaming orb as he goes home to his or her wife and family and is innocently asked what they did at work that day.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17277&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/05/08 00:00:00
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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
11/15/10 mr.mike Ray is just adequate , movie better than the first. 4 stars
11/11/09 Bnorm It was not a good movie per se...but it was entertaining. 4 stars
7/07/09 sbninja lots of action, but it is a totally new Punisher film - not a sequel to the last Punisher 3 stars
4/02/09 Raul Valdez Jr i give this a 3.5 cause i like the action but the story went to crap GREAT VILLIAN 3 stars
1/14/09 Shaun Wallner Intense Action! 5 stars
12/08/08 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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