With the poor quality of the new Jonathan Hensleigh version of The Punisher it’s time for Cinema Blend to look back to the simpler time of the ‘80s, and the first attempt to bring the story of The Punisher to the silver screen.
As a comic book story, The Punisher has the makings of a good movie. A tragic hero whose family was lost, caught in the crossfire of a senseless Mafia battle, Frank Castle catches what the corruptible law does not, and punishes the guilty. Vigilante justice visually should be impressive with lots of fighting, not just with guns but raw visceral hand to hand combat as well. Director Mark Goldblatt (who’s other directorial credit is the Joe Piscopo/Treat Williams corny flick Dead Heat) brings none of these elements to his movie version of The Punisher’s story.
In Goldblatt’s The Punisher we see Frank Castle (Dolph Lundgren) already well underway in his career of vigilante justice, having committed over 120 murders in the course of 5 years. In fact we only see the reason for him turning to this lifestyle in traumatic flashbacks as Castle relives watching his wife and kids perish as victims of a car bomb. Since then Castle has abandoned his career as a cop and upheld the intent of the law if not the procedures of it as The Punisher. In just the first few minutes of the movie we see what Castle is all about as he hands out his brand of justice to a newly released Mafia boss before disappearing to ride his motorcycle and nakedly contemplate his place in life in the sewers of the city.
Yes, that’s right, riding his motorcycle and nakedly contemplating his place in life in the sewers of the city. What, was that edited out of your comic?
Pursuing The Punisher is Frank Castle’s former partner and cop buddy Jake Berkowitz (Louis Gossett Jr.). Berkowitz is convinced that Frank Castle survived the explosion that killed his family and has become the vigilante that’s wreaking havoc on the city. As partners, Castle saved Berkowitz when his life was going down the drain and he wants to return the favor. On the other side of the law are Gianni Franco (Jeroen Krabbe) with the Mafia and Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori) with the Yakuza who are battling for control over crime in the city.
The biggest problem with The Punisher is that it seems to have no idea what to do as a story. You have this hero who fights crime on his terms and they don’t have any crime for him to fight. There are only a couple of times Castle actually fights during the early part of the movie (before the plot takes an uncharacteristic turn to lead him into more combat). Mostly he hangs out with his down-on-his-luck rhyming thespian flunky and rides through sewers. There’s a struggle for power going on between the Mafia and the Yakuza, but we quickly see that if Castle sits that out the two will mostly take care of each other. In other words, there’s no real reason for Frank Castle to even be in this movie.
The film is saved a little bit by Louis Gossettt Jr. who brings his regular grumpy character to the table. In the past he’s brought us grumpy schoolmasters (Toy Soldiers) and grumpy military men (Iron Eagle) and this time he’s a grumpy cop. His standard personality is entertaining enough through most of the film, although the one scene he actually gets with Frank Castle is pretty much wasted because of the lack of chemistry between the two actors. Dolph Lundgren seems to have the Punisher look down pat, assuming the Punisher is a drugged out stubble-styled drifter. There is a time or two where Lundgren does look intimidating, but then he opens his mouth and sounds as drugged out as he looks in most of the film. This movie is as good an argument for overdubbing as Andie MacDowell in Greystoke and goes to show that just because an actor sometimes looks the part doesn’t mean they fit the part. There is more to casting a movie then just matching appearances, especially since these new fangled “talkies” came into being.
As you might expect from a DVD you can get for $5.88 at Wal-Mart, this thing has no extras. That’s probably good because having to listen to the cast or crew justify the movie would be painful at best. The only things resembling special features are a few text screens of filmographies for the major cast and crew, and some “production notes”.The only interesting piece of information garnered from these is the knowledge that most of the fights were improvised. The notes claim this was to heighten the “reality” of the moment, but it explains why few of the fights are well filmed – without having choreographed a fight there is no way to know quite where to put the camera. With such a poor movie, and a complete lack of bonus material, even $5.88 is a price too high for The Punisher