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The Punisher
Jonathan Hensleigh
Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Roy Scheider, Laura Elena Harring
124 min.


They got it wrong. The formula for stupid fun is stupid plus fun.

Criminals (John Travolta) kill Frank Castle's family. So he puts on the t-shirt his dead son bought for him (apparently at Hot Topic) and becomes The Punisher. I promised myself I'd avoid the review cliche about the punishment being delivered unto the audience, but it really makes sense: John Travolta killed Frank Castle's family because Frank Castle had killed John Travolta's son; I'd have killed Frank Castle's family just if I had been in the neighborood. Passing by. They are the ugliest, yuppiest group of people ever put to film, appearing to have been fabricated solely of khaki and iced mocha. Biological relation or not, I have a hard time believing Frank castle would miss them.

And Frank Castle. Frank Castle is a singularly unlikable hero. More bland than any action hero has any right to be and looking like a meatier version of Aaron Eckhart, not really musclier, just more meat packed into the same amount of skin. The Punisher has the disconcerting feel of a reverse forced fullscreen, everyone appearing just a little too wide (John Travolta looks like a meatier version of John Travolta and I guess Rebecca Romijn was in the early stages of pregnancy), as though the film had been plumped Ball Park Frank-style by several minutes in a microwave. Apparently set in some alternate fat, dull universe where even stuff blowing up is boring and every day is Thursday, it eventually gets to the point where the sudden blatant outbursts of gay-bashing seem to be a step in the right direction, as they actually briefly capture your attention.

After Frank Castle begins his campaign of revenge ("It's not revenge," he tells us), he moves into a shitty apartment next to Rebecca Romijn and two retards. In a scene that is almost interesting just for how poorly it is filmed (I'm all for breaking the rules of continuity, but I shouldn't spend a character bonding scene in a comic-book action-movie wondering who is seated on whose left) the characters bond. It is both shitty and retarded.

There are a few bright spots. There is an extended scene in which Frank Castle has the shit beaten out of him by a giant Russian. You cannot imagine, without having sat through the first forty minutes of The Punisher, the good it did my heart to see Frank Castle beaten to the very brink of death. The other highlight is Rebecca Romijn, who turns in the film's closest thing to a performance (really just an identifiable presence).

But that's not what you remember about The Punisher. What you remember is that, for most of its duration, The Punisher rivals Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever and Bulletproof Monk for Least Interesting Movie of the Decade. Really, after twenty minutes I stopped even trying to remind myself to laugh.

Pat Jackson