The Punisher DVD Review

It's great to see a movie make no compromise in staying true to the comic book it's based on. "The Punisher" is unrelenting when it has a chance to be violent, something other adaptations have failed to do. That means little when you see the final product.

Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) has made his final bust and is planning his retirement. When things go awry during a party, his family is murdered and he is thrust into a battle with Howard Saint (John Travolta), a Tampa underworld king. Seeking vengeance, Castle begins to dismantle Saint's group one by one until his revenge is complete.

Simply put, "The Punisher" just doesn't work. In fact, it's flat out terrible. While it does do a fine job of keeping the tone of the comic with explicit violence and overly dark settings, it just doesn't come off as entertaining. It has a few brief moments where you may get drawn in, but then it's onto another scene that throws you back out.

It's not the performances as John Travolta once again plays a trademark bad guy like he did so well in other actions movies like "Broken Arrow." You learn to hate him early on and those feelings never dissipate. The major problem here is you feel the same way about Jane too. Maybe it's the way he handles the entire situation, but there's no way to cheer for him. Then again, you're not really supposed to either.

That's the main problem here. There's nothing to latch onto to pull you into the rather generic and cheap story. This is, at its heart, a very simple revenge tale and there's nothing here to make you believe it's anything but. Only one character has anything going for him and that is of course the Punisher. Since you can't pull for him, there's no reason to dive deep into the film.

Action sequences are done in decent fashion, particularly a rather unbelievable brawl with Jane taking on pro wrestler Kevin Nash (who plays a Russian but hardly looks the part). This is in part to Jonathan Hensleigh who wrote two Bruce Willis action flicks, "Die Hard 3" and "Armageddon." He also partly wrote this film, but there's very little to write about. There are a few attempts at comedy, but not only do these fall flat, they clash miserably with the rest of the movie.

Both the budget and time was short on "The Punisher," but that's not an excuse. Back in 1989, Artisan released the first Punisher movie and it just had more going for it with even less cash flow. This latest revision is nothing more than a cash in on the comic book movie craze that lacks any punch, entertainment value, or redeeming values. Bring back Lundgren. (* out of *****)

Lions Gate has done a terrible job of bringing this film to DVD, at least in the video department. Grain is nasty throughout and backgrounds suffer from a ridiculous amount of noise. There are a few brief scenes of clarity, but these are few and far between. Black levels are strong, but not even this can hide the grain from viewers. Thanks to the video, there is now NO reason for this disc to be in your DVD player. (**)

Audio is a bit stronger, presented in a far too rare 5.1 EX mix. Bass here is not only powerful, it's dangerous in a few spots. Be sure to turn down your subwoofer a notch before turning this movie on. The rest of the sounds blend together and lack the separation you would hope for considering there's an extra channel in the back to work with. Unless it's an action scene, you'll be hearing almost everything from the center speaker. If it is an action sequence, there will be a few seconds of immersion and you'll move on. (***)

To make up for the movie, there is a wealth of excellent features that chronicle the shoot in various ways. The director goes solo for a commentary track and continues talking through two deleted scenes (which of course can be viewed without Hensleigh). "Keepin' it Real" looks at the stunt work done for the film. This is unique as it gives time to the stunt men (and women) along with all the behind-the-scenes footage. The cast also gets some time (Jane did most of his stunts) during this 25-minute feature.

"War Journal" is a very thorough 30-minute look at the shoot from the pre-production to the final days. You'll hear from people as high up as the stars and from as low as the fitness trainer. The director also gets some time to speak out about the budget constraints. "Army of One" is the obligatory look at the comic book and its origins. "Drawing Blood" features some of New Lines marketing department, but the focus here is on Tim Broadstreet who did the poster art. It's brief, coming in at 5-minutes. The disc rounds off with a Drowning Pool music video and a short trailer for the video game. (***)

Nothing against Thomas Jane, but he just doesn't seem like the Punisher. He just looks so...puny. Vin Diesel was considered for the role and would have fit in perfectly, at least physically (not much to say about his acting). He has that look that would make this entire movie somewhat easier to swallow.

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