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PCR # 214  (Vol. 5, No. 18)  This edition is for the week of April 26--May 2, 2004.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"The Punisher"

Movie review by:
Nolan B. Canova

Two and a half stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

theater seats

Floridaís Commuter Airlines from the 1960ís to the 1980ís: Part One
 by William Moriaty
"The Punisher"
 by Mike Smith
"The Punisher"  by Nolan B. Canova
Tambay Film Festival, Neck Aches, Horror Movies, Etc.
 by Andy Lalino
Cable Channels Fighting for an Identity (and Viewers)....Couch Potato Quick Takes
 by Vinnie Blesi
Politics: The World of Two Extremes....Put It In Your Planner....Save The Ship....Who Needs Indy?
 by Brandon Jones
Coming Soon....A Nice Cape....A Salute....What About "The Night Chicago Died"?....Cool Venues....Meet The Beatles, Part 14
 by Mike Smith
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Artisan Films     
Starring: Thomas/Tom Jane, John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Roy Scheider
Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh
Rated: R
Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

I was prepared to hate this movie what with it being slammed in the press (even by a couple PCR writers), but I was very surprised to find I liked it quite a bit. In fact, my movie-going companions, Will Moriaty and Joshua Montgomery, also had a good time. Of course, I HAVE to preface this review with a disclaimer that it's no secret I'm a Tampa native and resident, so the same magic that worked on a very few other area critics regarding the sheer thrill of seeing Tampa portrayed so big and downright majestically has to've played a role in my more positive perception as well as theirs!

I encourage everyone to also read Mike Smith's review, this issue, as he definitely represents the majority opinion that this movie is a flaming piece of shit (exact characterization provided by Drew Reiber). I, howewever, do not agree with that assessment.

Basically, ex-Marine and FBI agent Frank Castle and his family have been targeted by crime boss Howard Saint after one of Saint's sons dies in an arms deal sting operation-gone-bad where Castle participated and is held responsible for by Saint. After the rub-out attempt leaves Castle's family dead and Castle himself seriously injured but alive, revenge/punishment begins because, as the old saying goes, this time it's personal.

Some have made it a point of contention that the film bears little resemblance to the original Marvel comics of the same name. I don't remember reading many (or any) Punisher comics, so I don't know. Corey Castellano and Brandon Jones informed me this film is actually based on a fairly recent Punisher mini-series that inroduces characters used in the film. OK, whatever.

But I think as a crime-action drama with plenty of over-the-top violence, it works pretty well. Thomas Jane (Frank Castle/Punisher), John Travolta (Howard Saint/bad guy), and Rebecca-Romijn Stamos (the girl who makes a difference) are well-cast in what I'd call an action-packed crime-thriller that absolutely plays liberally with dramatic-license/lapses in logic and murder-attempt survival rates that are too fantastic for words (others are killed by a single bullet and stay dead, but I lost count of how many times Castle was shot/burned/maimed/sliced only to be pretty fully healed by the next scene. It's nothing I haven't seen in plenty of other popular movies where the hero displays near-invulnerability), but is still a fun watch.

Some other bumps/glitches/inconsistencies: Tampa streets are magically cleared of all traffic during car chases (in real life, bumper-to-bumper traffic 24/7 is frustratingly common in this town any more). Howard Saint appears to be a pretty clueless person to have accomplished being a top crime boss, but his bumbling frustration regarding Castle's assassinations I put down to his generous faith in his lackeys to pull it off quickly. The much-ballyhooed appearances by local celebrities/personalities/known actors is nearly non-existent (although William spotted an eye-blink-fast cameo by Gus Perez), and very disappointingly, our own Corey Castellano, who was key make-up man for the second-unit work, had a screen credit misspelled so badly I didn't even recognize it, but Will saw it ("Corey Catallaneau").

Some good news: I think star Thomas Jane and director Hensleigh pulled off making The Punisher a very dangerous and scary guy. It's that kind of thing where even if he's alone surrounded by bad guys we all know they're f*cked. Even they know it. This is what Batman should've been--THERE, I'VE SAID IT. And speaking of Bat-type things, the "Punisher-mobile" is a souped-up 1969 or 1970 GTO big-block with added metal shields around the windows. Yes, I'd like to have one.

One last comment regarding the shots of Tampa before I forget: I've been getting some disturbing emails containing comments to the effect that Tampa doesn't "deserve" to look this good or this big in the film (or any film). And that no crime drama this big could happen here. What kills me is that so many local people hate Tampa so badly that even seeing it portrayed well onscreen provokes disgust, as if somebody somewhere may accidentally think it's an OK place to live, to say nothing of being ground-zero for crime operations (the late Santos Trafficante may beg to differ). Know what? F*ck you. Move. The filmmakers thought it was a good idea to move it from its original New York locations to here and I'm fine with that, I hope others follow.

To address some of Michael's criticisms (echoed by others):

"1. The movie is full of so many coincidental plot holes that I'm surprised the actors didn't fall into them."

Yes, but let's count how many plotholes and liberal devices are in Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Steven Segal, and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and nobody complains about them.

"2. The producers obviously feel that today's moviegoer has no sense of geographic knowledge. As the opening shot of a beautiful palm tree-lined shore is shown, the audience is greeted with the caption: TAMPA. After a few seconds, the film makers add the word: FLORIDA. Oh My God! I thought it was Tampa, Alaska!"

I honestly don't remember the opening credits appearing that way, I thought "Tampa, Florida" appeared all at once as a slow fade-in. If I'm wrong, then, yes, that's pretty ridiculous. If and when I see it again, I'll pay more attention.

"3. Former G-man Frank Castle is a man of mystery who nobody knows, yet alone where to find him. Imagine how surprising when, while eating breakfast at a local diner, or just showing up at the court house, total strangers point and say, 'Look, it's Frank Castle'."

It had already been well-established his face was all over television news! Even his tenement cronies recognized him from TV, to which Frank, actually surprised, said "I don't have one". The incongruity with the local diner (admittedly an irritating and derivative scene), has more to do with the fact that there seems to be no population in Tampa outside of the hired actors. No street walkers-by and no traffic. Makes it feel like a much smaller movie. The diner has only three customers, including Castle, when "El Mariachi" walks in with the guitar case. And speaking of him...

"4. Why is it that every time the best hit-man from Memphis is called into town he's an Elvis wannabe, complete with bad theme song? That he sings. To his intended victim. In the same local diner where Castle goes to have breakfast."

I figured that was supposed to psych him out. Obviously, he followed Castle to the diner.

"5. Both my favorite actor of all time (Scheider) and another favorite (Travolta) have ended up in career hell, though, thankfully, not for long on Scheider's part. As for JT, I would have rather screened 'Battlefield Earth II'. Honestly."

I never saw "Battlefield Earth" so I wouldn't know....I heard it was a flaming piece of shit. Roy Scheider's role as Frank Castle's father was a waste of a legendary star, I'll give you that.

6. Depending on where you look, the film either stars Thomas Jane or Tom Jane. As if the film company couldn't decide which sounded tougher. I really liked Thomas Jane when he played Mickey Mantle in Billy Crystal's film "61*," so I'll assume that Tom Jane played the Punisher, because I really didn't like him.

At the start of the film, it is "Thomas Jane" (listed above John Travolta, interestingly) who plays The Punisher. At the end credit roll, it listed "Tom Jane" as Frank Castle, true. Considering how they f*cked up Corey's screen credit it's amazing it didn't contain even more variations than that.

Note to Drew Reiber who wrote saying (among other things) "anyone who says [The Punisher] is better than Daredevil is an idiot." OK, noted, I'm an idiot. Daredevil was the flaming piece of shit (just thinking of the schoolyard martial arts showdown makes my eye twitch).

Of the current comics-to-movies fare, Hellboy is admittedly the more loyal-to-source, accessible, and enjoyable. But don't write The Punisher off yet, at least not in my opinion. I can't honestly rank it with Hellboy, Spider-Man, or X-Men in the three-star range, but on a scale of zero-to-four stars I do give The Punisher a strong  Two and a half stars

This week's movie review of "The Punisher" is ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2004, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.