Film review: ‘The Punisher’ violent yet entertaining

By Ben Kessler, CNJ Staff Writer

As a comic book collector, I have looked forward to movies like this since X-Men showed that a comic book movie didn’t have to be based around a weightlifter in green paint. The Punisher was not a comic book I followed closely, since Frank Castle was a regular guy with no special powers, but the issues I did read were dark, violent and intelligent. I hoped for much the same with the movie and almost got it.
In “The Punisher,” Thomas Jane (who also starred in “Dreamcatcher”) plays FBI agent Frank Castle, a highly skilled warrior whose long and distinguished record of service has left little time for his family.
In his final mission before retiring, an agent’s itchy trigger finger nearly wrecks a well-planned weapons-trafficking sting. One of the casualties of this SNAFU is Bobby Saint, son of crime magnate Howard Saint (John Travolta.)
When he finds out about his son’s death, Howard Saint sends his goons to slaughter Castle and his entire family while they are at a reunion.
After Castle is left for dead, he feels he has nothing left to live for. He uses his training and wits to kill everyone and anyone connected to Howard Saint.
After Dolph Lundgren’s portrayal of The Punisher back in the ’80s, I didn’t expect much from this movie. These low expectations meant that the movie didn’t have to work hard to please me, and I was happy to see a story reasonably close to the comic book’s. I didn’t expect the comic book to be followed exactly (for example, in the comics, Frank Castle’s family is accidentally caught in a mob crossfire, not targeted for execution), and I found the best way to view this movie is as the story of The Punisher retold in a new way.
Thomas Jane is not an actor I would have expected for this role, and he only just pulls it off. Most of the time he is as dark as The Punisher is supposed to be, but sometimes he just comes across as melodramatic.
Speaking of melodramatic, I (and I think the movie itself) could have done without Rebecca Romijn-Stamos’ (Mystique of the movie X-Men) part altogether. It gave nothing to the movie and I was relieved that her character wasn’t just used as a replacement love interest for Castle.
The only big problem I had with this movie is motivation. There seemed to be a lot of it lacking. Obviously, having his entire family slaughtered is plenty of motivation for Castle, but the other characters just didn’t seem to be motivated toward what they were doing.
Stamos doesn’t seem motivated to care about Castle, the people who live in Castle’s apartment building certainly don’t seem to know him well enough to make the sacrifices they do, and Saint, after the initial grief, doesn’t seem all that perturbed that his son is dead.
Other than that, great action scenes and well-choreographed fight scenes make for an enjoyable movie with some good acting. Travolta may overdo it at times, but that’s part of his charm when he has the right character. I give it a 3 on the Film-O-Meter, but if you’re a special effects and explosions fan, I suggest you go see it in a theater anyway.

Film-o-meter
1 — Actively avoid this movie.
2 — Watch it if a friend rents it.
? 3 — Rent it.
4 — Worth a matinee.
5 — Go see this movie.

Ben Kessler is a former moving image arts student and a long-time film buff. He can be reached at:
ben_kessler@link.freedom.com

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Show: The Punisher

Stars: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Samantha Mathis
Summary: A former G-man wages a one-man war against a crime syndicate after they slaughter his entire family.

Show times: Saturday and Sunday at 1:30, daily at 4;45, 7:30 and 10 p.m.

Length: 2:11

Rating: Rated R for pervasive brutal violence, language and brief nudity.