Probably the only thing writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh got right with his big budget version of “The Punisher” is to cast Thomas Jane (“Deep Blue Sea”) in the lead role. With his raspy voice and stoic personality, Jane is perfect.
The rest of the movie? Not so good. In fact, it’s quite horrid.
Without rehashing the plot, let’s get down to the nitty gritty, of which, shockingly, “The Punisher” has little of. Oh sure, there are two bloody scenes of note: one involving the wholesale slaughter of Castle’s family and the other involving Castle’s rumble with a muscle-bound enforcer nicknamed “The Russian”. Aside from those two scenes, and counting the underwhelming finale, “The Punisher” looks like its Tampa Bay, Florida locale — that is, bright, sunny, and completely artificial.
The first mistake the producers made was hiring Hensleigh. The writer of such idiotic fare as “Armageddon”, “The Saint”, and “Jumanji” seems more concerned with exposing lead Thomas Jane’s chiseled naked chest as many times as possible instead of figuring out — and then plugging — all the holes in his and Michael France’s script. But considering that Hensleigh has rewritten France’s script, and that for all intents and purposes this is his work alone, he is the only one to blame here.
As for being a first-time director, Hensleigh fares even worst. The one word that describes this incarnation of everyone’s favorite vigilante is underwhelming. There is nothing exceptional or well done about this film. The action scenes are weak and ridiculously unexciting. Of course it doesn’t help that Hensleigh is working from his own trite and illogical script. You know, for a vigilante on the blood trail, the Punisher is surprisingly easy to locate. Whenever the bad guys want to take a swing at him, all they have to do is knock on his door. Yes, I kid you not. The Punisher has rented an apartment and all the bad guys know where it is. This happens about three times in the movie. You would think he would move after the first time, but no. Not this guy.
Also, instead of going on a bloody, psychopathic safari hunt for those who wronged him, Castle chooses to lug a heavy fire hydrant around in a bag, all in service of his master plan to — Well, who cares. Frank Castle, a man who has witnessed the total annihilation of his bloodline and held the squashed bodies of his wife and son (yes, that’s right, I said “squashed” — as in ran over with a truck), is running around Tampa Bay, Florida playing cute games with jealous criminal John Travolta and his hot-to-trot wife Livia. And then there’s Will Patton (“The Postman”) as Howard Saint’s top enforcer. It’s a crying shame how Hensleigh kills off Patton’s character.
There’s nothing about Jonathan Hensleigh’s version that would lead me to believe it’s better than the cheapie direct-to-video 1989 version starring Dolph Lundgren. “The Punisher” is a messy endeavor, filled with gaping plot holes, uninteresting characters, underwhelming action, and a script that boggles the mind with its stupidity. More than once, Hensleigh struggles with even the simplest scenes. There are enough editing mistakes, continuity errors, and lackluster framing to make even a recent film school graduate blush with embarrassment.
Maybe someone will do better with a sequel. God knows they can’t do any worst than what Hensleigh has given us here. If not for the presence of Thomas Jane, this movie would be a total waste of time. As it stands, it’s pretty bad.
Jonathan Hensleigh (director) / Michael France, Jonathan Hensleigh (screenplay)
CAST: Will Patton …. Quentin Glass
Thomas Jane …. Frank Castle
John Travolta …. Howard Saint
Laura Harring …. Livia Saint
Samantha Mathis …. Maria Castle
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos …. Joan