Starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta. Rating unavailable.
It takes a lot of guts to call an action movie The Punisher when it's as excruciatingly erratic as this. But writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh--who makes his directorial debut here after more than a decade of writing genre-hopping screenplays that include everything from Armageddon to Jumanji--is just smart enough to appreciate the irony. All that time churning out high-concept clunkers has not gone to waste: this lurid potboiler knows exactly who it wants to attract. The whole thing moves to the squeal of muscle cars and the sound of booming shotguns. Once in a while, sinister-looking women with enormous, obviously fake breasts move across the screen as a change of pace.
Frank Castle, also known as Punisher (based on a comic-book character who vows to wipe out a gang of thugs after his family is brutally murdered), likes to modify his own weapons. His lair is a grungy apartment souped up to look like a sexier version of Home Hardware. Spiritually, this is a movie aimed squarely at the kind of 14-year-old boy who enjoys filing pointy things in metalwork while waiting for a space to open up in the Future Sociopaths Club.
In the title role, actor Thomas Jane sports an inky dye job and has a voice that sounds like a buzz saw in low gear. He wears a black T-shirt with a skull logo on it that looks like a cross between an anorexic alien and a Michael Jackson mug shot. At least we're spared the big-budget sight of, say, Ben Affleck in a red-leather devil costume.
On a technical level, The Punisher is so poorly made that you can clearly see the dummies being set on fire during the many scenes when things blow up real bad. Stretching credibility past the breaking point, our hero is shot at least twice at nearly point-blank range and manages to survive. And yet there are several moments that are unexpectedly inspired. Most of them involve finding creative ways to portray savage acts of violence.
Some of the acting is on the mark in a smarmy, cartoonish kind of way. John Travolta has great, broad fun as the movie's villain. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is surprisingly touching as The Punisher's ingénue, although her abilities are wasted here. We knew she was pure of heart before she spoke a word: in this kind of movie, the women with natural breasts always are.