The Punisher (6/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

If you’re going to this movie to see John Travolta, you’re in for a disappointment. The star of this movie is Thomas Jane (for the women reading this critique, Jane is a Hunk’s Hunk), who plays Frank Castle, a government agent who is involved in a sting that results in the death of the son of Howard Saint (Travolta), a crime family boss, and his wife, Livia (Laura Harring), who orders the death of Castle and his entire family.

Naturally, everyone is killed but Castle who spends the rest of the film in a vengeful quest to kill Saint and everyone involved with the massacre of his family. This is nothing more than a farce that uses violence as its motif, based on a Stan Lee Marvel Comic Book hero. Unlike the deplorable Man on Fire, which represents itself as a serious film in which the graphic, cold-blooded violence brings “redemption” to the protagonist, this is clearly cartoonish and is clearly played for fun, even though lots of people die violently. The dialogue is tongue in cheek, like when someone tells Castle to “go with God,” and Castle grumbles, “God’s not involved in this.”

Castle gets shot and stabbed and blown up, but this guy has recuperative powers that are, well, beyond belief, because he always comes back and it doesn’t take him long. One time he’s stabbed in the chest and beaten to a pulp. After a few moments rest, he’s as good as new. What a guy! Nobody could take this seriously. If you don’t, it’s enjoyable because no matter what Castle goes through, you know he’s going to prevail.

Travolta’s presence adds nothing to this film (except, maybe, box office and the scene showing him smoking that he insists on including in every film he makes). He’s in so few scenes he probably shot them all within a week. Consistent with his appearance last year in the lamentable Basic, Travolta continues to display an inability to achieve a second dimension to his craft, unless he puts on his dancing shoes. But I have to admit that he does have a Presence.

Another ineffectual big name here is Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, who is following up her lame performance last year in Femme Fatale with this outing as a woman, Joan, who becomes involved with Castle. Rebecca is stunningly beautiful but she could use a few years’ training at the Actor’s Studio or Stella Adler.

Compounding the acting, you should pardon the expression, of Travolta and Romjin-Stamos, there’s some sloppy editing. In one scene Saint is being dragged behind a car and is on fire. In the next scene, an aerial overhead, we see him still being dragged behind the car, but he’s no longer on fire. Then in the next scene he’s on fire again.

Finally, I continue to find the blatant advertising promotions stuck in modern films offensive. The audience has paid to see it and shouldn’t be subjected to paid advertisements masquerading as props. This one contains many plugs for a specific brand of bourbon that Castle drinks incessantly.

Despite Travolta and Romjin-Stamos and the inconsistent editing and the commercial promotions, I enjoyed this film because I took it with a grain of salt and viewed it as a comedy. If you’re looking to see a serious thriller, this is not it.

April 24, 2004

The End