Review: "Punisher: War Zone" succeeds as mindless entertainment but that doesn't make good

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oh, dear. Sign of the times? It's less than three weeks to Christmas and the film industry has only one wide release film opening? And it's "Punisher: War Zone?" I know that "Twilight," "Bolt" and "Four Christmases" can't have all the screens.

And anyway, which studio executives thought they couldn't compete with "Punisher: War Zone?" It's Dick Tracy meets Batman meets Dirty Harry meets your violent video game. In short, it's a mess.

But hold the phone. I sincerely think it's meant to be a mess. I'm not trying to pull your leg; I believe they made the film they set out to make.

There is no scene worse than the others, the camera is always in focus (in fact, it's first-rate camera work), the bad guys are always incredibly violent, the cops play it straight, the facial scar makeup is exaggerated and good, and the Punisher, well, he's just a killing machine that keeps on keeping on. From the first shockingly violent moments to the climatic bloodbath, the film stays more or less focused and on track.

The problem might lay in the history of the project: After the 2004 edition of this comic book, Thomas Jane agreed to do a Punisher sequel, but he wanted it done with a more noncomic dramatic feel. He wanted to go the Travis Bickle route (the De Niro character from "Taxi Driver").

Well, "The Punisher" is taken from a comic book, don't you know, and Thomas Jane was out. So with a bit of floundering, rewriting, new producers and production companies, they came up with a storyless, action-packed shoot 'em up that no "name" directors or actors wanted to do.

But who flippin' cares? They made it anyway. The Marvel company had a new logo burning in their pocket (Marvel Knights) and a distribution deadline to meet. They spent $35 million and had 13 producers and six production companies get the film into theaters. The film is promoted as mindless entertainment and done extremely well for what it is — mindless entertainment.

I'm sorry, but for $10 I can rent three great action-packed shoot-'em-ups at the video store — that aren't advertised as "mindless entertainment."

The bad 1989 "Punisher" had Dolph Lundgren and Louis Gosset Jr. Then in 2004 it was Thomas Jane and John Travolta trying their best — Jane jokes that it took a year to get a decent movie offer after that debacle. Now it's "War Zone" with somebody and somebody directed by somebody with start to finish death and mayhem and blood. Lots and lots of blood.

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