Film Review: Punisher: War Zone

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If at first you don't succeed, punish, punish again.

That seems to be the attitude behind this third attempt to translate Marvel's "Punisher" comic book series to the big screen. Falling somewhere in terms of effectiveness between the supremely cheesy Dolph Lundgren starrer and the more ambitious 2004 version featuring Thomas Jane and John Travolta, "Punisher: War Zone" is so unrelentingly violent that all but teen boys might as well stay home.

Not surprisingly, the film dispenses with an elaborate depiction of its anti-hero's back story, which is only briefly delivered well into the proceedings. Instead, it jumps immediately into the nonstop action, with former FBI agent-turned-murderous vigilante Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) bursting into a mob meeting and blowing virtually everyone away, at one point mowing down his victims with an automatic weapon while hanging upside down from a spinning chandelier.

Unfortunately, one of the dead turns out to have been an undercover FBI agent, which sends the already emotionally tortured Punisher into an even more self-reflective mode as he guiltily attempts to reach out to the agent's widow (Julie Benz) and young daughter (Stephanie Janusauskas). Meanwhile, he's being pursued by the agent's vengeful partner (Colin Salmon) and also by one of the surviving hoods (Dominic West) who, thanks to being nearly killed in an industrial machine, winds up horribly disfigured and renaming himself Jigsaw.

The character's name is all too fitting because director Lexi Alexander has ramped up the fast-paced action to ultra-gruesome proportions more suitable for a "Saw" installment. Enough heads are blown off, body parts severed, internal organs devoured and viscera scattered to more than satisfy the clearly bloodthirsty target audience.

That is, if they can get past the simplistic story line, the inane dialogue ("Sometimes, I'd like to get my hands on God," Frank intones at one point) and the wildly uneven performances. While Stevenson (HBO's "Rome") brings an impressive brooding intensity and physical presence to the title role, his unrelentingly grimness eventually proves tedious. Clearly looking to overcompensate are West (sporting elaborate but less-than-convincing makeup), who portrays his villain with a manic wildness and terrible Noo Yawk accent that is more comical than menacing; and Doug Hutchison, who is entertainingly over the top as "Looney Bin" Jim, Jigsaw's aptly named feral kid brother.

Production: Marvel Studios/Valhalla Motion Pictures/MHF Zweite Academy Film/SGF Entertainment.
Cast: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Julie Benz, Colin Salmon, Doug Hutchison, Dash Mihok, Wayne Knight. Director: Lexi Alexander.
Screenwriters: Nick Santora, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway.
Executive producers: Oliver Hengst, Ernst-August Schnieder, Ari Arad, Ogden Gavanski, Michael Paseornek, John Sacchi.
Producer: Gale Anne Hurd.
Director of photography: Steve Gainer
Production designer: Alexander Neskoromny
Music: Michael Wandmacher
Costume designer: Odette Gadoury
Editor: William Yeh
Rated R, 107 minutes.
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