The Punisher (2004)

Genres - Action  |   Sub-Genres - Action Thriller, Superhero Film  |   Release Date - Apr 16, 2004 (USA)  |   Run Time - 123 min.  |   Countries - Germany , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Jeremy Wheeler

Despite its admirable modest budget and inspired casting, Jonathan Hensleigh's The Punisher is a poor excuse of an action film that will no doubt send detractors back to the abysmal 1989 Dolph Lundgren epic. What went wrong? For starters, the tone of the piece is all over the place -- one second it's a straight-faced melodrama and the next it's a light and fluffy flick filled with cookie-cutter idiots that preach family values among loners. One cannot put all the blame on Hollywood, since the film's goofy trio of neighbors are culled from the Garth Ennis "Welcome Home Frank" comic run, but why use that story and who thought that the obnoxious, Italian-singing Mr. Bumpo was ever going to be funny? The Punisher character works okay, but surrounding him with such broad comic relief and shallow emotional schtick was a mistake. As far as the action, the score adds little more than a lifeless tempo for the gun fights, making every slam-bam scene loud and brash without a cent of real excitement. There are also numerous ridiculous gaps in logic within the story that make no sense when they rear their ugly heads and make even less sense when the over-inflated running time concludes. Why does Frank Castle out himself to the cops and the press? What happens to those cops, anyway? And just where does one obtain a fake fire hydrant? Who knows, and frankly, who cares?!? If there were one saving grace of the production, it would be the cast. Thomas Jane is near-perfect as the lead, while Will Patton effortlessly pulls off a juicy performance from a character who never particularly warranted it in the first place. John Travolta does make for a fine villain, but his arc couldn't be more unbelievable as his banker/crime boss character is worked over like a marionette in a children's puppet show throughout the film. It's been reported that first-time director Hensleigh (screenwriter of such bravura action fluff as Armageddon and The Rock) was shooting for a gritty '70s feel, but, given the end result, either he didn't do his homework or the suits up above molded the film into the far more awkward beast that it now is. Either way, audiences everywhere are the ones that lose out, while Punisher fans are left with a hollow shell that vaguely resembles the hardened vigilante they've known for so long.