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Punisher: War Zone

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Is it seriously that hard to make a decent Punisher movie? Really? The Marvel Comics anti-hero is pretty much simplicity itself: After watching the gangland murder of his family, Frank Castle goes nuts, dons a T-shirt with a skull on it, and kills every bad guy in sight. Figure out a way to throw in some decent action scenes, temper it with some hand-wringing about the cost of revenge, find the right unsmiling face to play the guy with the guns, add explosions. Bang. There's your movie. And yet Punisher: War Zone is the third attempt to bring the Punisher to the big screen—it follows two different movies called The Punisher, 1989's low-budget Dolph Lundgren effort, and a bigger-deal 2004 movie starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta. Neither of those films made good on the seemingly simple task of translating one of the comic-book world's simplest characters.


Punisher: War Zone at least trades up in Punishers. Rome's Ray Stevenson has the right mix of imposing bulk and sensitivity to look simultaneously hurt and pissed while blowing the brains out of bad guys. He's joined by another slumming former HBO star, The Wire's Dominic West, who spends most of the film sporting cut-rate deformo makeup as the bad guy.

Their presence doesn't suggest the class of this movie so much as the difficulty that cable actors have finding decent roles when their shows end; this is junk, a bunch of hard-R action scenes kept together by the thinnest of plots. Which would be fine if it were entertaining junk, but the parade of dimly lit skull explosions grows old quickly, and director Lexi Alexander (Green Street Hooligans) brings neither energy nor gravity to the over-the-top violence, which would feel excessive if the film knew the meaning of the word excess. It's a joyless plunge into gunfire that doesn't even know how to draw blood.