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THE PUNISHER (article first published : 2004-10-15)

The first attempt to transfer The Punisher, the Marvel Comics vigilante hero, to the big screen came in 1989, when hulking Dolph Lundgren filled the title role.

Now we have a new effort from Jonathan Hensleigh, making his directing debut after penning scripts for such hits as Armaggedon and Die Hard Wth a Vengeance.

The result is a better, if not a must-see, film - but one parents should be careful about allowing their children to slip into it as it's pretty heavy on violence. Children are killed and a man has ear, nose and mouth piercings ripped from his skin. And another bloke is shot, dragged by a car, then set alight.

Then one villain gets an office guillotine blade planted into his scalp, while another finds boiling stew hurled into his face and someone else gets a knife shoved through his chin and into the roof of his mouth. Not pretty.

The Punisher stars Thomas (Stander, Deep Blue Sea, The Sweetest Thing) Jane as an ace FBI undercover cop, Frank Castle. He's a guy who takes early retirement after a job which ends in the death of the son of a particularly powerful and shady businessman, Howard Saint (John Travolta).

Saint, of course, is not amused and, on the advice of his pampered wife (Mulholland Drive's Laura Harring), orders his henchmen to kill not only Castle but also every member of his family.

An explosive scene at a family reunion leaves Castle battered, bloodied, bruised, mentally numbed and without his wife, son and parents. But he slowly rises from it all to become newly pumped up, wearing a black T-shirt with a skull on front and brandishing a collection of spooky guns that had been modified by his father (Roy Scheider).

Vengeance, of course, becomes all - and the taciturn, frowning Dirty Harry on steroids, whiskey ever at his side, stomps out to settle his score with Saint and his assorted sidekicks.

The movie, also featuring Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Will Patton, is rather predictable, too long at two hours and unlikely to win any awards. Also, performances are competent without being commendable. But it is a slick and entertaining enough adventure which should find a following. Rating: 6/10. - Billy Suter




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