Commando. That’s what I kept thinking about during The Punisher, the newest arrival off the comic book adaptation factory belt. You know, the 1985 Arnold Schwarzenegger action-fest where he has to rescue little Alissa Milano from the bad guys. The difference is that Commando knew it was bad. The Punisher thinks it is brilliant.
Just a few weeks ago I called Walking Tall the “silliest movie of the new year.” Oh how quickly it has been dethroned! The Punisher arrives as yet another comic book adaptation, but you wouldn’t know it compared to the recent slew of comic books film that have been released. This one is a downer all around, and worse yet it is a downer with a major identity crisis.
Frank Castle (Jane) is a well-respected FBI agent who has just nabbed mobster Howard Saint’s son in an illegal gun deal. Saint’s son is killed, and Howard Saint himself (Travolta) immediately sends his top goons after Castle. They locate him in Puerto Rico at a family reunion. Everyone is killed including Castle’s wife (Mathis) and son, and presumably Castle himself.
But oh wait! Castle is a superhero, so he is back to live again and vow revenge on Saint (hopefully you’ve picked up on the horrible irony of his name by now) and all of his corrupt employees. What follows is relentless battle after relentless battle between Castle (now known as The Punisher) and Saint.
The Punisher goes incredibly (and I mean incredibly) off course with its attempts at comedy. Most of this comes from The Punisher’s neighbors in a dumpy joint that he is now living in. We have Bumpo (fat jokes required), Dave (Foster) with the crazy piercings, and Joan (Romijn-Stamos), who in real life would not be caught dead with these two wastes of space. The scenes are jarringly awful, as the three try and welcome The Punisher to their “family.”
What will shock people the most about The Punisher is its graphic and wince-inducing violence. I have nothing against graphically violent movies when it’s done right, but here it is nothing more than wretched excess. Plus it doesn’t help the fact that deep down this movie really wants to get laughs out of you.
Thomas Jane has been described by many as an “up-and-comer,” and I believe it. He plays The Punisher with Clint Eastwood-like woodenness, which is perfect for a man who wants nothing more than revenge. The smart money says we’ll be seeing him in The Punisher 2 next summer.
After Broken Arrow and Swordfish, John Travolta has once again been cast as a villain, and again it does not work for me. Travolta is just too nice to be playing villains. He tries so hard to be mean, and it usually draws laughs. Will Patton fares better as Saint’s right-hand-man, Glass.
I’m sure that The Punisher was made with all the intentions of being a franchise, and that is likely to happen. But count me out. Movies that simply do not know what they want to be make for frustrating experiences, and The Punisher is Commando with an identity crisis.
Studio: Lions Gate Films
Length: 124 Minutes
Rating: R for pervasive brutal violence, language, and brief nudity.
Theatrical Release: April 16, 2004
Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh
Written by: Michael France & Jonathan Hensleigh
Cast: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Laura Harring, Ben Foster, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos