December 6th, 2008


The Punisher is one of my favorite comic book characters so I was a little weary of this flick because it was yet another “reboot” of the franchise.  The Punisher series is the only series I know of in which a different actor plays the titular hero in each movie.  At least Michael Keaton stuck around for two Batman flicks before bolting.  (Time will only tell if Edward Norton reprises his role in the next Hulk movie.) 


The first Punisher movie starred Dolph Lundgren and it was a fun action picture that suffered from a miniscule budget and no skull on the Punisher’s T-shirt.  The second flick starred Thomas Jane as the Punisher and was a meaty origin story that favored angst over actual punishment.  This time around, it’s Ray Stevenson’s turn to inherit the mantle and I’m happy to report that Punisher:  War Zone is one of the goriest action movies of the year, second only to Rambo in terms of sheer carnage.  While I may have missed the emotional resonance of the Jane version, this is a perfectly acceptable incarnation of the Punisher and should please his more narrow-minded fans.  (And by narrow-minded I mean people that just want to see shit get fucked up.) 


The film opens up with The Punisher going ape shit on a whole bunch of greasy mobsters and machine gunning the bejesus out of them.  In a particularly gnarly encounter, he grabs a hold of this big deal gangster named Billy Rossoti (Dominic West) and shoves him into an industrial glass grinder and puts it on “puree”.  During the fracas, Punisher accidentally kills an undercover FBI guy and spends the rest of the movie contemplating giving up his vigilante ways. 


Meanwhile Rossoti miraculously survives and is left with a face that looks so fucked up that even Leatherface wouldn’t consider using it as a mask, and begins calling himself Jigsaw.  With Punisher off moping about the dead Fed and giving puppy dog eyes to the agent’s grieving widow (Julie Benz from Rambo) and little daughter, Jigsaw is busy rebuilding his criminal organization.  When Jigsaw comes after the deceased narc’s family, Punisher grabs a shitload of guns from his buddy Microchip (Wayne Knight) and returns back to his punishing ways by blowing away Jigsaw and his minions.


Whereas the last Punisher movie was well acted and dramatically sound; this flick is just a balls to the wall action movie.  Director Lexi (Green Street Hooligans) Alexander did an admirable job at bringing a comic book sensibility to the movie and captured the feel of The Punisher comics (especially Garth Ennis’ run) remarkably well.  When Alexander attempted something approximating actual “drama”, the results were often laughable though.  She completely botched just about every “emotional” scene in the movie, but that’s okay though because she sure as shit knows how to film The Punisher dishing out the pain. 


Punisher slices people’s heads off, shoots numerous baddies at point blank range in the face, throws a guy off a roof and impales him on a fence, jumps off the roof and lands on said impaled guy’s head, punches one guy right through the face, and launches a grenade into the general vicinity of a group of gangbangers.  In the flick’s best scene, Punisher uses a rocket launcher on a somersaulting criminal and effectively vaporizes the dude.  I laughed harder at that shit than I have at any comedy made in the past year.  


The hand to hand stuff is also particularly brutal, and the bathroom brawl Punisher has with Jigsaw’s brother, Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchinson) is a doozy.  This Loony Bin Jim (or “LBJ” for short) dude is a trip.  When Jigsaw rescues him from the Loony Bin, Jim is so pissed that an orderly ate his applesauce that he rips out the guy’s kidney and gobbles it up!  And while we’re on the subject of gross, don’t even get me started on the scene where Punisher gets his nose broken and fixes it by shoving a No. 2 pencil up his deviated septum and... it’s better not to think about it folks.  When you’re The Punisher, your health insurance options are limited I guess.


Stevenson knows how to fuck shit up and plays The Punisher like a combination of Charles Bronson, Jaws and Jason Vorhees as he mows through armies of Mafioso and other assorted scum like it’s nobody’s business.  (I particularly liked his look of annoyance whenever he got shot.)  Stevenson is considerably less effective whenever he isn’t dishing out the punishment and the scene where he lets Benz’s snot-nosed kid play with his dead daughter’s snow globe is especially groan-inducing.  Even though the man can’t do drama like Thomas Jane did (Lundgren was at least smart enough to not even attempt to try anything remotely dramatic), I still dug Ray Stevenson as The Punisher.  Let’s face it, the man looks like a Tim Bradstreet drawing come to life, so he’s okay in my book.


Also deserving of kudos is Dominic West as Jigsaw.  While his origin reeked of leftovers from The Joker in the ‘89 Batman (“Billy is dead.  Call me... Jigsaw!”), West still had lots of fun with the role.  He had excellent chemistry with Hutchinson and together they made a formidable duo.  The scene where he recruits the dregs of society into joining his organization was priceless and is worth the price of admission.  He stands in front of a giant LCD TV that’s projecting the image of the American flag and says “We’re looking for a few good men to be all they can be!” while a bunch of Thug Lifers look on incredulously.  That shit was so rousing that the gangbangers sitting behind me in the theater starting applauding. 


Punisher:  War Zone is a fun, if patchy action movie that delivers the gory goods more often than not.  Any Punisher fan should be pleased with the final product, just be wary of any scenes involving actual plot or dialogue.  Speaking of dialogue, Stevenson only says about 250 words throughout the whole movie.  Nothing particularly noteworthy although I did like his parting words to Jigsaw:  “I’m going to put you out of my misery.”