Punisher: War Zone

Punisher: War Zone

The Punisher takes aim at the critics.

(Lionsgate) Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Doug Hutchison, Colin Salmon, Wayne Knight, Dash Mihok, Julie Benz, Stephanie Janusauskas, Mark Camacho. Directed by Lexi Alexander

When you seek vengeance, there is almost always some kind of collateral damage. How much that damage is depends on how far you’re willing to go to get vengeance – and whether or not you’re interested in justice at all.

Frank Castle (Stevenson) watched as his family was massacred by mobsters after they witnessed a mob execution while picnicking in the park. Since then, he’s been on a rampage in his new identity as the Punisher, executing anyone having to do with organized crime while the police turn a blind eye to the whole she-bang.

When he accidentally kills an undercover FBI agent while going after the gang of Billy Russoti (West), Castle undergoes a crisis of conscience. He begins to wonder for the first time if what he’s doing is crossing the line. In the meantime, Russoti – who was horribly disfigured by the Punisher and now goes by the name of Jigsaw – wants to find the money that was last seen in the hands of the FBI Agent and turns his attention to his pretty wife Angela (Benz) and daughter (Janusauskas).

With the Russian mob moving a bio-weapon into New York with the aid of Jigsaw (which is why he needs the money so badly) and the FBI sending agent Paul Budianski (Salmon) to take down the Punisher, things are getting complicated. Castle knows he can’t turn his back on the widow or her daughter with Jigsaw after them; he turns to his friend Microchip (Knight) to arm him for one last battle. Unknown to the Punisher, Jigsaw has liberated his insane and ultra-violent brother Loony Bin Jim (Hutchison) from prison and the two are taking aim on Angela, the Punisher and everyone they care about.

While the plot here is paper-thin, it doesn’t really need to be much more than that. In a movie about the Punisher, what you really need is an excuse for blazing guns and body counts. Director Alexander realizes that and gives us all the action we can handle.

In a sense, that’s what separates this from the 2004 filmed version with Thomas Jane in the lead role. While that was more of a straight revenge movie, this one finds the Punisher well along the path of being a crazed killer, the actual killers of his family having long been put in their graves. Now, all he lives for is taking down organized crime. The point becomes when does it stop being vengeance and start becoming bloodlust?

There are no easy answers to that nor should there be. Stevenson could have easily played Castle as a one-dimensional lunatic whose only focus is on dispensing punishment. Instead, he is a living, breathing tormented soul who misses his family terribly and can’t stand to see the helpless being victimized. In that sense, he finds justification for all the carnage he delivers in his quest to protect people like Angela and her daughter.

Alexander really seems to get the comic book and its spirit – in fact, this movie is closest to the spirit of the books than any of the three film adaptations that have been made of the character. There is plenty of action and spent cartridges, but there is a sense of humor involved as well, particularly among the villains who are so out-of-control that control isn’t even in the rear-view mirror anymore. West and Hutchison take bite after bite of the scenery and find it finger-lickin’ good but that’s really what you want in a comic book villain.

While not for the faint of heart, the Punisher satisfies on a visceral level and certainly fans of the comic are going to want to beat the drum for this. Not since Death Wish or Rambo have we had movies that so effectively utilize violence in a vigilante setting.

WHY RENT THIS: Stevenson does a credible job as Frank Castle. The action is virtually non-stop; this is certainly a movie that captures the spirit of the comic book title.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: While the acting needs to be over-the-top, it exceeds the bounds of reason in some places.

FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of violence ranging from the comic book to the excessively brutal, along with some drug use and some foul language. Definitely not for the kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The title role was originally offered to Thomas Jane, who played the part in the 2004 film. However, while Jane was interested in doing the character again, he wanted a grittier, more realistic film instead of the more comic book film that War Zone was becoming and so he passed, leaving the role open for Stevenson.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $10.1M on a $35M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Whip It

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