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2004, Dir. Jonathan Hensleigh
1024 min. Rated R.
Starring: Thomas Jane, Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, Laura Harring, John Travolta.

Review by Brodie James

THE PUNISHER is the latest in a long line of Marvel films; movies based on some of the more popular Marvel Comic properties. To date we’ve seen Spider-man swing from skyscrapers and into action, we’ve seen Blade slice and dice his way through thick groups of blood thirty vampires, and we’ve seen the Hulk go ape shit, destroying everything in his path. With the Punisher, we’re offered a different sort of story, and a harder pill to swallow.

Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is a retired undercover cop--the best in his field--who has finally done what he thought he could never do: given up what he knows and does best for the sake of his family. Hey, he’s married to Samantha Mathis…who can blame him?

Unfortunately, when on his final job, the shit hits the fan and the youngest son of a prominent money launderer named Howard Saint (John Travolta) is killed, causing Saint’s wrath to be called down on those responsible. First, it is the man directly charged with maintaining his son’s well being. When that is done, it falls upon cop responsible for the setup that resulted in the death.

Learning that Castle has retired and is at a family reunion on the coast, Saint sends a hit squad headed up by his best friend--and right hand man--Quentin Glass (Will Patton) to kill Castle, and to kill the rest of Castle’s family at the behest of Howard’s sadistic, yet very hot wife, Livia (Laura Harring). What follows is a tragic scene that is down right disturbing. Everybody dies, except, of course, for Frank Castle…despite taking a bullet in the chest at point blank range, and several other earlier shots to the gut and legs. Blown into the water, he is saved by a black man, and nursed back to health…although you never see any of that.

You see, while in theory, THE PUNISHER has everything necessary to make it a great action flick, it lacks a couple very key ingredients. First--the directing is horrible. Sure, the shots are framed well, and the action is captured, but nothing is done in a unique way. The lack of inspiration coupled with an obnoxious level of flat colors makes this flick almost painfully boring to watch. Second--the script is worse than the directing. I’m not sure if this film was shot exactly as the script was written, and if it was, I’d say shoot the writer. There are significant portions of the story that are missing. Maybe the makers didn’t think seeing Frank recovering from his wounds was all that important, but I happen to think it is. And then there’s the acting.

Now, I am fan of Thomas Jane. I’ve been a fan of his since I first truly recognized him in DEEP BLUE SEA. However, I really jumped on the Thomas Jane bandwagon when I happened upon a little gangster flick on late night cable called THURSDAY. It starred Jane as a reformed gangster, and featured a cast of throwaway (but memorable) characters. It was a fun flick, and one I’ve made a permanent addition to my DVD collection. But, the acting jobs turned in by Travolta, and Romijn-Stamos is arguably their worst. While I usually love Travolta as the bad guy (he’s excellent in BROKEN ARROW and FACE/OFF) as Howard Saint, he seemed overly stiff. The same goes for Rebecca, who plays Joan, one of Franks upstairs neighbors: a waitress with eyes for the brooding ex-cop with a grudge.

Yet, where THE PUNISHER falls flat, it does rally back with one very important thing: the characters. In true comic book fashion, this film is not without it’s memorable characters, however short lived their screen time. Case in point: Harry Heck and the Russian (Mark Collie and Kevin Nash) are two hitmen, sent by Saint to finish Castle off after he resurfaces. Their scenes aren’t very long, but their impacts on the film are the greatest. Especially Collie’s, sings that haunting country tune in the trailers. Known as “The Man from Memphis”, he is easily my favorite character in the entire film, and my sole reason for buying this film when it hit’s the shelves of my local DVD retailer.

The first rated R flick since BLADE, THE PUNISHER goes about it’s R rating all wrong. There is some language, and a lot of graphic violence. By the end of the film, it seemed as though it was the characters and violence that served as the only reason for making this flick. Had they crafted the story with more care and skill, I think THE PUNISHER could have been the best big screen comic book flick to have been released…even surpassing HELLBOY, which I currently hold at the top of the comic book flick mountain.

But, in the end, THE PUNISHER is just a corny revenge flick, meant to excite, but failing to do so. The only big explosion that will affect you during this movie, is the voice of your inner film critic, screaming at you for paying to see this BOMB in the theater.

Rent this flick when it hits Blockbuster. The characters are groovy, and the violence is worth the three bucks...not eight.

Sorry if this review isn't chuck full o' those wacky one liners and witty jokes that I usually love to provide. I am just really disappointed with THE PUNISHER, and am now going to go drown that disappointment with a large bottle of Wild Turkey. G'day.

When not being stolen for this site, the work of Brodie James can also be found on Living Corpse.


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