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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Punisher: War Zone

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Punisher: War Zone   -   No Peace For This Dark Knight

Four years after the film adaptation of the Marvel comic book anti-hero The Punisher hit the screens with Thomas Jane as the titled character and John Travolta as the villain, the follow up installment finally makes its way into theatres.  I thought the previous film offered Thomas Jane the breakout role that would catapult him to stardom and would establish him as an action hero. Obviously, I was wrong.   Not only did that not come to fruition, Jane seems to have disappeared from the scene, at least for the time being. Nevertheless, I was hoping Jane would be back in this sequel.  But as they say, things change.  First and foremost, taking over as Frank Castle, aka The Punisher is Ray Stephenson (HBO’s Rome) whose physical presence extends to kicking ass or walking around in brooding mode while saying very little.  If that is all it took, I could think of other actors who could have filled in just as easily.
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For those who didn’t see the first flick, a flashback sequence brings everyone up to speed as to understand the subsequent actions and mind set of Frank Castle, a former FBI Special Forces operative haunted by the brutal slayings of his wife and young daughter they where gunned down by a mob kingpin after they witnessed a mob execution.  Driven by vengeance, Frank had taken the law into his own hands as a murderous vigilante known as the Punisher whose relentless mission is to wipe out one mob family after another since he believes somebody has to punish the corrupt and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks. 

Supposedly six years have passed when we once again meet up with Frank Castle and his alter ego The Punisher.  Without wasting any time, this installment immediately unfolds with an action packed human slaughter house scene that has bullets flying and blood drenched dead bodies piling up. It starts when Frank, armed with automatic weapons, bursts into a dinner party filled with gangsters and the local mob boss and proceeds to massacre everyone in sight. Unfortunately, during the rampage Frank unknowingly murders an FBI agent that had been working undercover, as well as throwing one of the hoods, Billy Russoti (Dominic West, 300) into a glass recycling machine with rotating blades.  Russoti miraculously survives but is left facially disfigured with a face sewn together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  That said, he decides to rename himself Jigsaw (didn’t he know that nickname was already taken in the Saw franchise) and sets out to find the Punisher and take him down. Along the way, Jigsaw breaks his psycho, cannibalistic brother aptly named Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchinson) out of the nut house after which the maniacal duo proceeds to recruit an army of low life street thugs to assist Jigsaw on his mission of revenge.
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Yet they aren’t the only ones on the Punisher’s trail.  NYPD’s Punisher Task Force has been watching and following the Punisher’s actions for five years.  Now, joining their team is the ex partner (Colin Salmon) of the dead FBI agent eager to bring Frank to justice. Meanwhile Frank has dug himself into an even deeper emotional turmoil in which he questions his homicidal actions. Guilt ridden for killing the FBI agent, Frank attempts to reach out to and protect his widow (Julie Benz) and young child (Stephanie Janusauskas) from the evil forces at bay.

Instead of following in the path of its predecessor which was played out as a serious action thriller, War Zone is delivered in much more comic book fashion with over the top campy acting, inane dialogue, dark humor, and an ample amount of gratuitous, graphic violence.  Taking over the director’s chair is Lexi Alexander delivering pumped up action, ultra gruesome scenes that involve an onslaught of blood and guts, heads blown off, impaling, stabbings, dismemberments, and cannibalism to satisfy even the most bloodthirsty audience.
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Stephenson never waivers as the straight guy while being surrounded by cartoonish villains that seem channeled from the old Batman TV series as well as the character of Two Face (Tommy Lee Jones) from Batman Forever. With his less than convincing makeup, exaggerated New York Italian goomba accent and mannerisms, West’s hammy performance comes across more funny than menacing and he appears to be having a blast. Same can be said for the off the wall, scene stealing Doug Hutchinson as his wild and crazy brother.   For a film that contains such violence and gore, I couldn’t believe how much I laughed.
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Could it be that the film is so bad that it is good?  In spite of its excessive violence, the often hysterical humor and hammy acting by the villains is its saving grace, and I wasn’t bored. I must admit I found the Punisher: War Zone oddly entertaining, although at times it borders on the zone of repugnance. So, does the film rate as a guilty pleasure or torturous punishment?  I have had my say.  Now it is up for you to decide.