Friday, December 5, 2008

Punisher: War Zone

“Who punishes you?”

Let’s start with the good, shall we? Ray Steveson is the third, and best cast, actor to take on the role of Frank Castle. In this latest version Frank is a former military officer whose family was gunned down when they witnessed a mob hit. Only Frank survived. Now, as the Punisher, Castle hunts down all members of organized crime in his never-ending quest for vengeance.

The latest name of his hitlist (Dominic West) gets himself thrown in a big vat-like glass recycler (Joker, anyone?) and is reborn as the tattered faced Jigsaw.

When the film plays it straight it works okay, although the scenes where the Punisher takes down rooms (or buildings) full of baddies who stand around waiting for him to first kill the guy next to him before taking action gets a bid old. I also liked the conflict within Frank over accidentally widowing the wife of an undercover agent (Julie Benz). There are pieces here which in better hands could have given us a halfway decent film.

The problems begin when the film tries to lighten the mood with mostly way over the top violence and simply ridiculous villains. Director Lexi Alexander can’t seem to decide what kind of film he’s making. You can be First Blood or Shoot ‘Em Up, but you can’t be both at the same time. We get meth-head jumping Jamaicans, the crazy Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchinson), and Jigsaw himself who is the worst on-screen comic book villain since Bane in Batman and Robin.

West’s Jigsaw seems to be a rather obvious homage to Jack Nicholson‘s Joker, but he’s simply not able to give the character the edge necessary for us to take him seriously. And when the bogeyman is little more than comic relief no conflict develops and a film like this simply doesn’t work.

Stevenson is well-cast in the role and with a better script he might have been able to carry the film. I do like how the script makes the local cops the Punisher’s complacent accomplices, and the action scenes, except with they get too cartoonish (such as punching through a guy’s head), are mostly well done. The film piles up the body count but it can’t decide whether it wants to be a fun shoot ‘em up or a tragic action drama. The result may be the best Punisher movie made yet, but it’s also the worst comic book movie of 2008.

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