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April 2004

By Wilson Morales

The Punisher
Distributor: Lions Gate Films
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Producers: Avi Arad & Gale Anne Hurd
Screenwriters: Michael Wright, with a rewrite by Jonathan Hensleigh
Cinematographer: Conrad W. Hall
Composer: Carlo Siliotto
Cast: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Laura Elana Harring, Will Patton, Ben Foster, Samantha Mathis & Roy Scheider


With superheroes coming to the big screen left and right nowadays, you would like to think that the stories and the action would only get better. Marvel Comics have benefited with the success of Spiderman and both X-Men films. Most of these superheroes were born because of the need for revenge and justice. The Punisher is an ill-fated attempt of bringing substance to a cliched genre. There's a lack of dialogue, a lack of violence, and a total waste of performances by the cast.

Frank Castle (Jane) is an undercover FBI agent whose last assignment as an arms dealer led to the death of Howard Saint's son. Saint (Travolta) is the local mafia kingpin with an ax to grind and a wife to please. With his wife seeking vengeance, she orders Saint's men to find Castle and kill his entire family. Castle happens to be in Puerto Rico at a family reunion with his wife (Mathis) and son. He can't believe he's now free to spend the rest of his life without having to travel so often because of his work. That blissful thinking comes to a halt as gunshots are fired and Frank sees his family being murdered. As he's too late to save his wife and son, he too is left for dead when Saint's men shoot him. Falling into the ocean before the pier exploded is what saves Frank's life. As he recovers, Frank seeks nothing but revenge. Wearing the black t-shirt with a skull on its cover that his son gave him, Frank becomes "The Punisher" as he goes on a spree of ridding those who have harmed him and killed his family.

Much like last year's Daredevil, in which Ben Affleck played the titled character, the Punisher has no super powers. His physical appearance and strength is all he has to go with. At the same time, the film is way too long (over two hours) to get thing rolling. We clearly see where this film is ahead. The opening sequence of the film in which Frank Castle was introduced was decent. It established his character and why he wants out of his, but then somehow the middle and third act of the film lost something. For one thing, the dialogue is atrocious. Laura Harring, who plays Travolta's wife, barely has anything to say, except for the line that sets the tone of the film, "Kill them all." After captivating audiences with her performance in "Mulholland Falls" a few years ago, you would think she could have received better roles than this. Just take a look at what's happened to Naomi Watts' career. Thomas Jane, or Tom Jane, as he prefers to be called by that name, gives a bland performance. Except for his appearance, which works well for the part, he doesn't do anything in which you care for his character. The only exceptional part is by Travolta as he is playing this character in his sleep. He's delivers the same persona he gave in a better film, Swordfish. He spends less time on screen, but when he appears, you want to see plan his next move than see Jane keeps drinking to drown his sorrows. Samantha Mathis and Roy "Jaws" Scheider must have really needed this film to jump start their careers again. These are veteran actors who could have been more effective had they been given more time on screen. The Punisher is supposed to be a menacing vigilante, inflicting harm to all who crosses his path the wrong way. In this film, the writers have him try to outwit his foes by creating friction amongst them. Over a decade ago, Dolph Lungren did the same film, and that film was bad itself, laded with poor writing and cheesy set designs. Someone needs to tell anyone who will listen, that when the story is 0 for 2, quit before you strike out.