Guns, gore and violence galore

Staff WriterDecember 5, 2008 

  • C-

    Cast: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Doug Hutchison, Colin Salmon

    Director: Lexi Alexander

    Length: 1 hour, 47 minutes

    Web site: www.punishermovie.com

    Rating: R (pervasive strong brutal violence, language and some drug use)

    Theaters

    Apex: Beaver Creek. Cary: Crossroads. Chapel Hill: Timberlyne. Durham: Northgate. Southpoint. Wynnsong. Garner: Towne Square. White Oak. Morrisville: Park Place. Raleigh: Brier Creek. Carmike. Mission Valley. North Hills. Wakefield. Roxboro: Palace. Smithfield: Smithfield.

Have you ever wanted to see a man punch a huge, gaping hole in the middle of somebody's face?

Well, "Punisher: War Zone" is here to provide you with that long-desired visual. That's not even the most startlingly graphic thing this movie has to offer.

With "War," Lionsgate and Marvel are looking to reboot the "Punisher" franchise, hoping it will make us forget the 2004 version, with Thomas Jane as the brooding, heavily armed avenger going after pipe-smoking kingpin John Travolta. (And let's not forget the 1989 version -- with Dolph Lundgren in the title role -- that went straight to video.)

Going more violent and garishly grim than previous "Punisher" movies, "War" has Ray Stevenson (of HBO's "Rome") as underground vigilante Frank Castle, still haunted by the hit on his family after they witnessed a mob execution. Now he mows down thugs, gangs, lowlifes and crime syndicates with a sweep of his machine gun.

A recent syndicate takedown has him accidentally killing an undercover FBI agent, which makes his former partner (Colin Salmon) hellbent on hunting him down.

Another enemy Castle makes is Jigsaw (Dominic West), a narcissistic mob boss who the Punisher sends down a glass-recycling vat, destroying that pretty face of his. With a mess of a mug, Jigsaw goes so far as to spring his uberpsychotic brother, Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison), out of the mental hospital to exact revenge on Castle.

Which brings us back to the violence. You won't find a more amazingly, appallingly violent movie this year than "War." (And yes, I am counting "Wanted.") Heads are obliterated (when they're not being decapitated). Necks are stabbed with wine glasses (when they're not just slit altogether).

I haven't seen this much over-the-top gore since that insane, Hong Kong, kung-fu prison flick "Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky."

"War" could've been as ridiculously entertaining as "Ricky" if it had a better director.

While martial-arts queen-turned-filmmaker Lexi Alexander goes all out in staging the aforementioned scenes, she has no idea how to shoot a scene with two people talking. In what must be her way of mimicking the comic-book frames of the "Punisher" books, she has all the actors appear in the left or right of frame, almost to the point where they're out of the frame altogether. It would be cool if other stuff was happening in each frame, but it's usually dead space and half a face.

It's bad enough that most of the cast doesn't so much as act, as just exist: one-dimensional and predictably cartoonish. (Fans of "The Wire" will be displeased with the usually awesome West's performance, slapping on a laughable goombah accent as Jigsaw.)

Alexander's desire to appease the fans by being as bloody and nihilistic as the Marvel Knights "Punisher" comics leads to a disjointed, dismal movie that crams too much into so little.

You won't catch a more pitiful moment on-screen as when West's Jigsaw matter-of-factly tells his goons to call him by his new nickname. (You can't just declare that people call you something new just like that -- who do you think you are, Beyoncé?)

Of course, it's hard not to watch "War" without thinking that Christopher Nolan did this same movie, except 10 times better, earlier this year with "The Dark Knight." However, if you thought the Caped Crusader took it too easy on those bad guys and could've blown off a head or two, you always have "Punisher: War Zone."

craig.lindsey@newsobserver.com, 919-829-4760 or blogs.newsobserver.com/unclecrizzle

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