Punisher War Zone Movie Review (2 Stars)

Movie Review by Michael Phillips


Ray Stevenson in Punisher War Zone.
Ray-Stevenson in Punisher War Zone

"Punisher: War Zone," the gory follow-up to the 2004 "Punisher" based on the Marvel comic book series, hangs around the same neighborhood as "The Dark Knight."

Both feature vigilantes who go too far. Both crime fighters speak in an affected tough-guy whisper, when they talk at all. Both favor the black vigilante threads when they're out on the town, taking out the trash.

The film works a bit better than the 2004 "Punisher" installment, the one starring surly, dislikable Thomas Jane as Frank Castle. This time Ray Stevenson, Titus Pullo in the HBO series "Rome," plays Castle.

While he doesn't say much in between workaday tasks -- grinding a man half-to-death in a glass recycler, or shotgun-blasting a mob goon point-blank in the area formerly known as his head, thanks to the digital wonder of computer-generated effects -- Stevenson brings some gravity to the viscera

Jane's preening quality added the wrong sort of narcissism to the sadism.

A few years ago, I saw Jane play Tom Wingfield in the Laguna (Calif.) Playhouse production of "The Glass Menagerie," and besides being the least sympathetic Tom Wingfield, ever, Jane played the role with a headful of surfer hair he couldn't be bothered to comb, let alone cut, to suit the play's pre-World War II setting. Funny what you remember.

In "Punisher: War Zone," Castle's adversary is the recycling victim, the mob capo with a stitched-up face.

He's played with peppy relish by Dominic West. The relationship between Jigsaw and his organ-slurping brother, "Loony Bin Jim" (Doug Hutchison), is one of affection and admiration. So much blood on the walls, so many corpses, yet such familial warmth at the center of it all.

With her background in kickboxing, it's disappointing that director Lexi Alexander (who made "Green Street Hooligans") couldn't handle the non-digitized fight sequences with more dash. As with most of the these hard-R comic book movies, all roads lead to the first-person gamer perspectives, wherein the protagonist makes his way down a hallway and in and out of various rooms, slaughtering villain after anonymous villain.

"Punisher: War Zone" is set in New York City, but you've rarely seen New York played with less conviction; the movie was shot mostly in Montreal, plus a cameo by Vancouver. Montreal's about as convincing as Manhattan as Thomas Jane was doing Tennessee Williams.



MPAA rating: R (for pervasive strong brutal violence, language and some drug use).

Running time: 1:47.

Starring: Ray Stevenson (Frank Castle); Dominic West (Billy Russoti/Jigsaw).

Directed by Lexi Alexander; written by Nick Santora, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway; photographed by Steve Gainer; edited by William Yeh; music by Michael Wandmacher; production design by Andrew Neskoromny; produced by Gale Anne Hurd. A Lionsgate release.


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