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THE PUNISHER (2004) review

February 19, 2004 -- That’s when I started to give a shit about Hensleigh’s THE PUNISHER. That was the date that Moriarty’s review went up, when he began comparing the second film adaptation of Marvel’s most violent and shady character… THE PUNISHER… he compared it favorably to the works of Don Siegel and John Frankenheimer. Ok – I would presume that he meant films like Siegel’s flicks like HELL IS FOR HEROES, THE KILLERS, DIRTY HARRY, CHARLEY VARRICK or even THE SHOOTIST and Frankenheimer’s films like MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE or SEVEN DAYS IN MAY or SECONDS or even THE FIXER. He drew a rather strong comparison to John Boorman’s brilliant Lee Marvin hardass in POINT BLANK, and seemed to insinuate that THE PUNISHER succeeded where Helgeland’s PAYBACK failed in bringing forth the tough as nails asskicker of a leading man.

Well – I know those films, shit, I love those films. If THE PUNISHER was even a blemish on the windshield of those movies, I would have been happy… but after watching this turd, the only films that I can think of to compare it to favorably are things like OVER THE TOP, RED HEAT… no, I actually prefer RED HEAT, I meant to say RED SCORPION. This thing is laughably awful. If you want proof of how good Stallone and Schwarzenegger were in making mindless ultra-violent drivel in the eighties… if you think that there is no way on planet earth that you can think fondly about the old Cannon Films version… then go check this unflushable turd out.

Why did I react so badly? Was it Drew’s set up… the comparing to classics and gods of the genre? Could be. Was it that there was an awful lot of talent that I usually love in this thing, being sprinkled like the recognizable pieces of last night’s dinner in your morning loaf? Could be. I know they took fairly radical points of departure with the character, but that never really bothered me, because I never really was a huge fan of the PUNISHER comics to begin with, I kinda felt The Punisher should never be a hero, but a great Marvel villain, that just took off the code and became what he hated and what ever hero feared turning into… but I love revenge movies. The Revenge Genre is one of my faves. It’s why I absolutely love Tarantino’s KILL BILL (vol 1&2). Why I love Spaghetti Westerns and Kung Fu films. Why I tend to love the Superhero Genre altogether. Usually – revenge ends up being the seed planted in a hero’s mind that makes him a crime-fighter, and I love it. Movies like DEATH WISH, THE CROW, ROLLING THUNDER, THE GREAT SILENCE… these are the films that I live for. Hell, my favorite Star Trek movie is WRATH OF KHAN, which is a revenge movie.

So, when Moriarty brought up Siegel and Frankenheimer and Boorman… oh boy oh boy, I was licking my chops and ready for the slow burn… I was ready for the cold killer of killers. A man that calmly and coolly hunts his prey, making them fear the inevitable punishment for the ills they had wrought upon the world. That man that can not be reasoned with, will not be stopped and will kill all those that deserve it in his eyes. That is not this film.

There are sequences that are hard – the massacre of Castle’s family is brutal, but ultimately… somehow, oddly unaffecting. In a strange way, I felt Travolta’s Saint character loss for his son better – and the revenge massacre that his wife calls for more haunting and frightening. But at this early part of the movie – it didn’t seem like it was going to be the trash that it later revealed itself as being.

To be fair, I don’t blame Thomas Jane or John Travolta or Laura Elena Harring or Samantha Mathis or Will Patton or Rebecca Romijn-Stamos or Roy Scheider. That’s a nice cast – and frankly I don’t think any of them are doing a truly awful job as performers. However, the parts they have are not worth playing. Thomas Jane, brilliant in the film STANDER, is a frowny face of vengeance – with the single worst narration that I can think of in cinematic history. John Travolta, early on, is quite good, till suddenly his character is rendered idiotic by his actions and turns as prescribed by the screenplay. Laura Harring, gorgeous as always, is cold as the grieving mother calling for overkill revenge, later in the film she’s played as just… the broad. Samantha Mathis isn’t given much of a part, but she’s good when on screen. Will Patton’s Quentin Glass is actually quite a nice character, except with the narration put over his “character profile part” tells us this whole list of terrible character traits like murderer and sadist, but ends with him kissing another man, and a look on Thomas Jane’s face as if to say, “and he’s a FAG!” Well, the way it was played was just ludicrously awful and comically offensive. That reveal was literally like they were saving the worst for last. Rebecca Romijn Stamos, who I loved to death in FEMME FATALE, is just the abused woman looking for a strong protective man in her life, and she’s become a surrogate mother of the most ill-conceived characters I’ve seen in a film in years. And Roy Scheider is just a bright moment or two on screen, but not much else.

What is bad?

The direction, the editing, the terrible action, the score underlining every moment with creepy lead in music. This flick had all the technique of a sculptor wearing oven mitts… clunky and ill-defined. The Russian as played by Kevin Nash came across like a throwback to bad Russian characters in the Reagan 80’s. Like a character out of OVER THE TOP that’s it, that’s all he does… oh, he says, “Vaya con Dios” to which Castle responds, “Oh, I believe God is gonna sit this one out.” You can not believe how awkward and stiff this shit is, but neither the Crazy Russian or the Mystic Black Man Savior Dude can prepare you for the astonishingly rancid asinine shite that is Mr Bumpo and Metal-Face Gamer Lad.

Now – Mr Bumpo is really the character’s name. Metal-Face Gamer Lad – is what I’ll call the character whose name I can not recall. But they have an oddly touchy feely gay geekness thing going on. Mr Bumpo is a big ol fat effeminate geek that’s socially awkward to an extreme. Metal-face Gamer Lad is a scrawny weasel geek that cowers a lot and plays video games while working out his passive-aggressive issues about him truly being a pussy boy. They look up to the strong mysterious PUNISHER man, they wish he could be their daddy or their friend. During one sequence when Mr Bumpo is preparing some gargantuan dish involving tons of ice-cream, he puts on Verdi’s La Donna E Mobile and suddenly I felt like one of Daffy Duck’s audience members in THE DUCKSTERS wanting to scream out, “Rigoletto!!!” – but while I watch the fatman lip-sync into an ice cream scoop and dance with Metal-Face Gamer Lad --- the Crazy Russian Arm Wrestler guy begins fighting Frank Castle… all too Rigoletto! Oh, it’s like some aborted Chuck Jones sketch between Sam the Sheepdog (Crazy Russian) and Wile Coyote (Frank Castle)… Only – the look on Castle’s face is more like Sylvester upon being held by PePe LePew.

I LOATHE THIS FILM. This is everything that we’ve grown past in the last 6 years of Comic Book Cinema. The tone is all over the place, the characters thinly drawn caricatures and the story resembling nothing of the original. This is a complete disaster, a turd, a blight upon Marvel’s good name. I prefer Corman’s FANTASTIC FOUR to this, that at least had moments that make me happy. This… this is just terrible. I haven’t disagreed more strongly with Moriarty and doubted his sanity since THE REAL CANCUN. I’m serious, I feel this film is in that dubious league. Simply awful.

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