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  Punisher, The Gun Laws
Year: 2004
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Stars: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Eddie Jemison, Rebecca Romijn, Ben Foster, John Pinette, Laura Harring, James Carpinello, Marco St John, Samantha Mathis, Marcus Johns, Bonnie Johnson, Roy Scheider, Veryl Jones, Kevin Nash, Mark Collie
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: It looks like another black market weapons deal, and two Florida hoods turn up at the appointed time to hand over the cash and receive the shipment of guns. The gun runners are South African, and they and the hoods seem to meet an understanding, but just as it's all going smoothly there is a wail of sirens and the police arrive toting their own weapons. There's a brief period of confusion and shots, which end with the South Africans and one of the hoods dead, and as the deceased gangster is the son of one of Florida's most powerful bosses, Howard Saint (John Travolta), there will be hell to pay. Especially when he finds out that the South Africans were actually very much alive undercover cops led by Frank Castle (Thomas Jane), who happens to be retiring with this last mission. However, in Castle's future there will be tragedy and revenge as he turns vigilante...

A Marvel Comics character, The Punisher had reached the big screen before in the shape of Dolph Lundgren back in 1989, which was very much part of the cycle of eighties action movies that spread like a rash throughout that decade. With that in mind, there's a distinct air of throwback to this incarnation of the hero, it's almost a tribute to the era where you're never to far away from seeing a violent death, and the more energetic the better. Scripted by director Jonathan Hensleigh with regular Marvel adapter Michael France, the lack of originality doesn't do the film any favours, though they manage to make the lead, who is essentially an obsessed psychopath, sympathetic up to a point.

That said, Jane isn't exactly charismatic in the role, and it's only the mayhem around him that makes him stand out. As this was based on a comic book, this is an origin tale, and after Castle has left behind his old life for what he thinks is the final time, we see him relaxing with his family (including wife Samantha Mathis) in his Puerto Rican hideaway. As this is near the start of the film, this idyll won't last, as we realise when Saint and his wife Livia (Laura Harring) decide vengeance will help them get over the loss of their son, and Castle must pay with his life. And the lives of everyone around him. This means a massacre that ends up in the deaths of, well, everyone there except Castle, who rises Christ-like after being left for dead by right hand man Will Patton's thugs.

Fans of the comic will be pleased to see the skull logo, on a T-shirt given to him by his son, is present on Castle's chest, but there are really only two sequences where the lurid quality of the original shines through, and they both involve the hitmen sent to take down Castle when he starts causing trouble for Saint. The first is a Johnny Cash lookalike (Mark Collie) who produces a guitar and sings about how Castle is doomed, and the second is "The Russian" (Kevin Nash), an almost superhuman muscleman who practically destroys Castle's apartment block in his efforts to bump him off. In that run down block our hero finds an approximation of a new family among his three neighbours, led by Joan (Rebecca Romijn in another comic book role). While this is a mere distraction, Travolta in yet another head bad guy role doesn't get enough to do, and Castle's actions in bringing him down just prove how weak he was in the first place. All in all, this Punisher is probably more faithful than the previous film, but it's still basically the overfamiliar good guy mowing down the bad guys plot, and nothing will disguise that. Music by Carlo Siliotto.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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