Not As Punishing As Dolph: Gothy Antihero Seeks Revenge


An amateur light opera of payback based loosely on a Marvel Comics icon, The Punisher earns faint praise where it can find it: As Frank Castle, ex-G-man turned mob-exterminating vigilante, Tom Jane notably improves on Dolph Lundgren’s 1989 straight-to-video interpretation. Lundgren’s Castle brooded woodenly underneath falling forelocks, but Jane plays the gothy antihero as straight man, beleaguered not so much by his own demons (murdered family, Wild Turkey) as by a series of cartoon assassins. In the film’s best scene, Castle suffers a Looney Tunes beating from the Russian, a beefy platinum giant played by WWF veteran Kevin Nash. (Where was Lundgren to revive Drago, his signature Rocky IV Soviet?)

Before the fun begins, the expository first half hour plods until a Tampa crimelord (an unenthused John Travolta) orders the massacre of the entire extended Castle brood—relieving a grateful audience from the strange sight of a heretofore peaceful family reunion. With topical revenge fantasies already available (Dogville, the Kill Bills) and with Roy Scheider on hand as a gun-loving paterfamilias, The Punisher mismanages its greatest asset: an unusual embarrassment of camp riches.