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Punisher, The

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // June 27, 2006
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted August 4, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
The back of Liongate's Blu-Ray DVD of The Punisher boasts that the film is "a tale true to its Marvel comics origin."  Being a comic geek from way back, this intrigued me.  A movie based on a Marvel character that stayed true to the comics?  Could it be?  Well, the answer is "no."  Apparently the person who wrote the cover copy has been reading a different Punisher comic than I have, since this film has only passing resembalance to the comic.
That's okay though.  I can live with that.  As long as the story is interesting and told well I can keep the fan-boy in me at bay.  Unfortunately this film in neither interesting nor well told and basically amounts to two hours worth of bad acting, stupid plots, and really stupid assassins.  Oh yeah and the Punisher doesn't appear as a character until the last fifteen minutes.  A more accurate title for this movie would have been Frank Castle Mopes.
Well let's see if I can make enough sense of this mess of a film to relay what happens.  The movie starts off in Tampa with Mickey (Eddie Jemison) and his stupid buddy meeting their connection at the harbor.  The two are going to buy a load of illegal guns and then sell them to gang members for a huge profit.  Their dreams of quick riches turn to dust however when the cops come swarming in.  The connection gets killed and the moronic friend pulls out a gun after they've been surrounded and points it at a cop.  All while protesting his innocence.  Really bright move there fella.  Being way to dumb to live he gets killed (raising the average intelligence of all of humanity in the process) and Mickey gets arrested.
At the morgue the ambulance unloads the body bags and, would you believe it, the connection isn't really dead.  He was really undercover FBI agent extraordinaire Frank Castle.  The agency just faked his death so….well, I mean they had to.  Otherwise, ummm, the bad guys might know that the FBI is… actually trying to catch them.  Or something.  Just trust me, they had to do that! 
In any case Frank goes to his retirement party; he's being transferred to the FBI's London office so his buddies naturally throw him a retirement party 'cause, well that doesn't make sense either.  But I'm sure there's a reason.  It could be that the transfer was just a gag so that they could see if Frank was really stupid enough to think that the FBI has offices in London.  When he gets there he'll find he's been fired, and that's the reason for the retirement party.  Yeah!  That's it!
Anyway, the moronic kid who was killed turns out to be the son of local millionaire and evil doer who bears the unlikely name of Howard Saint (John Travolta).  When Saint finds out that his son was killed, he looks into who was behind the deal and, after some hefty bribes, discovers that Castle is the man responsible for his son's death.  Never one to take the killing of a son lightly, he sends a squad of goons to Castle's family reunion in the Bahamas and has them kill the whole clan.  This they do, including shooting Frank in the leg, shoulder and right in the center of his chest at point blank range.  They then douse the pier he's lying on with gas and blow it up just for good measure.  Frank survives all this and swims out to a far off island where an old medicine man cures his injuries.   Apparently the bullet in the chest luckily missed his heart, lungs, and spine. 
Back on the island, the officials can't find Frank's body, so he is immediately declared dead.  I mean if you find someone's wife and child murdered, it's only natural to assume that they are dead too.  Right?
Five months later Frank is as good as new!  (With only very minimal scarring too.)  He goes back to Tampa aiming to mope around and get revenge on the people who killed his family.  The first thing he does is get about a million dollars worth of weapons from a warehouse (all those legally-dead-but-not-really FBI agents know where tons of explosives and guns are hid) and tricks out his low-rent apartment with a bunch of booby traps and spring loaded guns that don't help him at all when he's finally attacked.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Having a military background, Castle knows that surprise is his best weapon.  So he totally throws that away by announcing to Saint and his cronies that he's actually alive and pretty much dares them to kill him.  Saint's not worried about one lone ex-cop, so he looks high and low for the stupidest assassin he can find and sends him after Castle.  Idiot Assassin #1 tracks his quarry down to a diner where Frank is moping and eating breakfast.  He enters the eatery, stares at Frank, and then he… sings him a song on his guitar.  This was a riveting scene, one of the best assassin-singing-a-song-to-his-victim-in-a-diner sequences that have ever been filmed.
After warning Frank that he's gunning for him, the singing assassin goes after Castle who has to audacity to look surprised when he see this guy trying to kill him.  They fight, and since it's only the middle of the movie Frank wins.
Next Frank mopes in his flat for a while, there's some comic relief with a fat guy and a skinny guy with a lot of facial piercings, and then Idiot Assassin #2 knocks on Frank's door.  He may be a cold blooded killer, but at least he's polite.  Frank opens the door and is shot dead.
At least he would have been, but Idiot Assassin #2 forgot to bring a gun.  So they have to fight mano-a-mano.  IA2 is really strong and tough.  Frank stabs him in the shoulder with a knife, pushing the blade all the way to the hilt and IA2 just stands there not even flinching.  Castle gets thrown through walls, hit with iron bars and a toilet, has a grenade explode near him but then manages to push IA2 down a flight of stairs which naturally kills him.
Okay, now Frank is mad.  Killing his entire family is one thing, but don't EVER interrupt him while he's moping.  That gets him pissed.  He finally decides to go after Howard Saint and end this thing once and for all.  So, with 15 minutes left in the film, he finally puts on his Punisher outfit and gets ready to kick some bad-guy butt.

This was a really bad movie.  I don't mean Fantastic Four bad, this was more like Incredible Hulk bad or worse.  There were so many plot inconsistencies and holes that it's almost impossible to list them all.  Even the action scenes which weren't as frequent as I was expecting were generally short and rather dull and the violence was so over the top that it was almost comical, something that I'm sure the director wasn't going for.
And Hollywood wonders why people aren't going to the movies as much these days.

The DVD:

This disc comes in a standard clear blue Blu-Ray case like all of the other releases so far.  Since this is a Lionsgate disc, they actually put art on the DVD itself; a nice Punisher logo.
Note: The only Blu-Ray DVD player on the market at the time of this review is the Samsung BD-P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design, and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this, though a firmware upgrade to fix the problem is supposed to be released in the fall.

This is the first Lionsgate Blu-Ray disc I've seen, and I was hoping that this would be more impressive than the offering from Sony, but it really isn't.  Like most of the other Blu-Ray releases, the movie looks good but not as eye-popping or impressive as an HD movie should look.  The widescreen 2.35:1 image is a bit soft; the lines are not as tight as they should be.  There is also more grain and digital noise in the image than I was expecting.
The one thing that really harms the presentation of this film though is the dark transfer.  Most of this film takes place at night and a lot of detail is lost in these scenes.  When the comic relief characters are confronting Joan's ex-boyfriend in the hall, you can't make out background details and this causes the image to look very flat.  The climax of the movie where Frank Castle goes to Howard Saint's club to end the battle is also really disappointing.  It's obvious that the director and cinematographer went to a lot of trouble to make the different rooms in the club have distinctive colors.  The bottom floor is bathed in blue light and the higher floor is painted a pale orange color.  These colors aren't reproduced well and it really harms the look of the film.  When Frank enters the club with a bow, he pauses and takes aim at a guard.  Instead of the background being light blue, it is very dark, nearly black.  Details are hard to make out, and even the Punisher icon on his shirt is very dark and easy to miss.  Likewise on the upper floor, the orange colors are washed out ruining the careful work that the set designers went to. 

Audio options for this disc include Dolby Digital Surround EX and DTS-ES 6.1, both in English.  The aural portion of the film was reproduced better than the visual portion.  Technically the disc sounds fine; there are no audio defects; no hiss, distortion, or pops.  Unfortunately the soundtrack itself isn't too impressive.  The action sequences make use of the full soundstage, but the rest of the time the movie is basically a stereo mix.  This rather simple soundtrack doesn't provide the atmosphere that it could.  Incidental sounds and background noises are pretty much absent.  The music does get thrown to the rears, but this is usually used to let the audience know that something suspenseful is going to happen.  As if we didn't catch that from the fact that the main character is strapping on 200 pounds of weapons.  Overall there wasn't anything wrong with the sound, it just wasn't too impressive, like the rest of the movie.
There are also subtitles in English and Spanish.


Ziltch.  They didn't put any extras on this disc.

Final Thoughts:

I've receive e-mails saying that I'm too easy on movies, and I'll admit that I am.  I can usually find some redeeming quality that makes a film at least worth a rental.  That's not the case with this film.  It's just bad.  I could watch Stealth and get some visceral enjoyment out of it, but there weren't any such thrills in this picture.  The plot was inane, the pace was slow, and even the action scenes lacked a punch.  I went into this film with low expectations and I was still disappointed.  Add to that a flat and colorless HD transfer and I can't think of any reason to buy this Blu-Ray disc.  Skip it.
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