PUNISHER: WAR ZONE
*** (out of 5)
December 5, 2008
Ray Stevenson as FRANK CASTLE
Dominic West as BILLY RUSSOIT/JIGSAW
Doug Hutchinson as LOONY BIN JIM
Colin Salmon as PAUL BUDIANSKY
Wayne Knight as MICRO
Dash Mihok as MARTIN SOAP
Julie Benz as ANGELA DONATELLI
Stephanie Janusauskas as GRACE
Directed by: Lexi Alexander
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Earlier this year, rumors were flying that “Punisher: War Zone” was in trouble. There was a certain group that still felt snubbed that Thomas Jane wasn’t brought back as the title characters. There were also reports that kickboxer-turned-director Lexi Alexander’s big budget production was quickly turning into a train wreck.
It was understandable that I would approach this film with caution.
But I was set at ease when the first mobster was decapitated by the Punisher within the first five minutes of the movie. Here, and throughout, I had to respect the character’s unflinching reaction to crime. You don’t see that too often in major Hollywood releases.
I wouldn’t say that one decapitation… or a dozen… or a string of pervasive, grisly, bloody violence necessarily saved this film. But I will say that helped assure me that at the very least, we were getting an unrelenting action film.
The story doesn’t really follow the first film at all, except that it has the same title character. This is a reboot, like we saw with “The Incredible Hulk” and “Superman Returns.” Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) is a hard-core vigilante. Think Batman with guns and grenades. He’s picking through the crime lords in New York after his family was killed for witnessing a mob hit.
After wiping out the entire power structure of one crime family, the lone survivor named Billy the Beaut (Dominic West) has been mutilated into a monster. Billy, who now goes by the name Jigsaw, rebuilds a gang and goes after the family of the undercover FBI agent who was found in their ranks. Castle, as his violently vengeful alter-ego The Punisher, tries to take down Jigsaw while saving the FBI agent’s wife and daughter.
Like last week’s Transporter 3, you don’t see this film for the plot or characters. I’ll be the first to admit that the writing is often flawed and the dialogue is downright dreadful at times. However, the action is top-notch, and I commend the filmmakers for not pulling their punches and earning a hard-R rating.
Ray Stevenson may not be a better actor than Thomas Jane (although he is a better actor than Dolph Lundgren who played the Punisher in the character first shot at the big screen in 1989), but he definitely embodies the character well. He’s as big as a house, and I can believe that when fitted with body armor and weighted down by guns and ammo, he’d be able to wipe out an entire mob family.
Aside from the brutal and sometimes silly violence (which includes moments like a freerunner getting blown to smithereens by a rocket-propelled grenade), the best part of the film is Dominic West as Jigsaw. West plays the character ridiculously over the top with a heavy gangster accent slathered over all of his dialogue. His villain seems more at home in the old Batman television show or a Dick Tracy comic than this film, but somehow it works.
Along with West is Doug Hutchinson as his psychotic brother Loony Bin Jim. Again, no great feat of acting, but a comic-book silliness that can be fun at times (and at other times a bit annoying). Other actors, like Wayne Knight as the Punisher’s supplier and Julie Benz as the fallen FBI agent’s wife, phone in their performances. But then again, I said earlier, this film isn’t about the acting.
If you’re looking for a hard-hitting action film with lots of guns, lots of violence and lots of blood, you’ll like “Punisher: War Zone.” If you’re looking for plot or character that rises above the quality of a low-budget Showtime production, you’ll also find that in this movie.