The Punisher (2004)
Main cast: Thomas Jane (Frank Castle), Samantha Mathis (Maria Castle), John Travolta (Howard Saint), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Joan), Laura Harring (Livia Saint), James Carpinello (Bobby Saint), Will Patton (Quentin Glass), Ben Foster (Spacker Dave), and John Pinette (Bumpo)
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
On the bright side, Thomas Jane spends nearly all his scenes in this movie shirtless and in tight pants. That's much to be said about a nicely muscled and somewhat hairy chest to lighten up the most dreary of movies. In this respect, The Punisher is a nice little piece of eye-candy for fans of hot guys and hot action scenes. On the downside, this movie doesn't know what it wants to be - a dark action hero movie or a comedic one - and tries to be a little of both, with horrific results.
Jonathan Hansleigh, who co-wrote the script as well as directs, makes the biggest mistake by telegraphing the plot to the point that even someone who is watching a movie for the first time ever can guess what is coming. In this case, twenty or so minutes of ex-undercover agent Frank Castle making love and getting together with his Perfect Wife and Perfect Son in a nauseating case of coochie-coochie love and kisses are really pushing at the limit of my patience. Anybody can see that this set-up is a thinly-veiled upcoming "Ohmigod they will all DIE!" scenario, so when the bad guys finally mow down Frank's family, I feel relieved rather than shocked. Thankfully, now we can get on with the real stuff, no more insurance commercial moments, yay!
This movie is predictable and even formulaic. Frank loses his family because his last case ended with the death of drug dealer Howard Saint's eldest son. Howard takes revenge by ordering Frank's death, and Howard's wife Livia sweetens the deal by requesting that all of Frank's family to perish along with the man as well. Frank survives, thanks to a Puerto Rican shaman that can somehow even remove the bullet scars on Castle's yummy body, and now he is back to take bloody revenge.
The problem with this movie is that it often crosses the line of good taste. The waitress Joan, one of Frank's three misfit neighbors, asks him whether he is turning into the very people he is taking revenge on. I wonder myself, because Frank's method of revenge is sadistic and brutal. At least his family members died quickly. On his part, Frank systematically and ruthless decimates the Saint clan and his methods with the knife is especially inhuman. Do I need to see him trusting a knife up the jaw of a villain straight up into his head? Does the end justify the means?
At the end of the day, Frank is arguably worse than the people he cold-bloodedly kills. Thomas Jane makes a sexy and compelling Frank Castle, but he's battling an uphill fight here. His character is a monster who doesn't even stay around to say goodbye to a dim-witted neighbor who risks his life for a stranger like Frank. Instead, he insists that he is now the Punisher, as if his past is an excuse for him to act like a monster.
Let me make this clear: I can tolerate, more often than not even enjoy, monsters and sadists in my movies. My problem here is that The Punisher glorifies these monsters as romantic do-gooders. It wants me to cheer for Frank Castle. If The Punisher chooses to make a statement about the dark side of human nature, or if it doesn't chicken out on pulling the trigger on Frank (if you've seen the movie, you'll know what I'm talking about, I hope), this movie would be perfect. But it wants me to laugh, cheer for, or view the actions of Frank Castle as something they aren't. This is why I leave the theatre dissatisfied with the movie. I can't help feeling that my intelligence has been insulted.
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