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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Punisher: War Zone

I went to see Punisher: War Zone yesterday and I was a tad disappointed when I discovered the movie did not feature my father taking off his belt and going after the bad guys for the beat-down of their lives. He always loved calling himself “The Punisher” sort of like George Bush likes being called “The Decider.” There was nothing he liked better than whupping the hell out of someone, and, if he still wasn’t dead, I’d give him a stylish Punisher tee shirt, featuring a modern interpretation of a faded grayish skull on a black background. Trés chic. Ironically, film version of The Punisher himself doesn’t wear this signature costume in the movie at all, which makes no sense to me, but what do I know? Maybe he only dresses down on the weekends or in the summer.

As it is, this adventure clearly takes place in the dead of winter with the emphasis on the dead. I think I’d have to sit through
Punisher: War Zone at least twenty times with a calculator in hand to keep track of all the people who get killed in the course of the movie’s 107 minutes. There are more bullets flying in The Punisher’s New York City than in the real world’s Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts combined. It’s no wonder this is called Punisher: War Zone. The truth is though, as much as he may want you to believe he is the ultimate badass, doling out vigilante justice the most painful way he can, the truth is, this guy is not all that as a “punisher.” I didn’t see him perform a single mammogram through the whole movie. You laugh, but this epic was directed by a woman, well, an alleged one anyway, Lexi Alexander (Hooligans). It’s always a bit of a toss-up guess when you are dealing with Germans who are also former World Karate and Kickboxing Champions turned filmmakers, especially ones who focus on violence, murder, the Mob, and the coolest weaponry this side of the MI-6. I was hoping for a more feminine take on The Punisher’s forms of revenge: he could attack his big, hairy testosterone-driven enemies and force them to have Brazilian waxes, or he could restrain them and shave them one by one with the same Bic™ disposable razor. Maybe he could force them to wear stilettos two sizes two small, cocktail dresses so tight they can’t sit down, and pantyhose that cuts off any dream of circulation and then tell them to work out their problems while getting paid 1/3 less than they were before. In other words, make them live like women any day of the week. I’d bet there’d be a whole lot less physical combat anyway, though I can’t guarantee these guys wouldn’t all shoot one another dead in the first five minutes of the movie and that would be the end of it.

This is a man’s world, and so
Punisher: War Zone isn’t quite so creative in its general conceits when it comes to getting rid of its bad (or good) guys, so guns are de rigueur as in most Mob-related slaughter-fests. So too are dose wund-der-ful ‘dese’ and ‘dose’ kind o woids dat da stereotypical ‘Eye-tal-ey-ann-o’ mobsters tawk in da language of da woy-old of diss Punisher guy. The bad guys generally look like they came from a line-up of central casting rejects who were too Italian or too-mobster looking for “The Sopranos,” except for the glamour-puss kingpin of the mob, Billy Russotti aka Billy the Beaut (Dominic West; tv’s “The Wire”), called The Beaut because of his self-obsession with his own male beauty. Billy never met a mirror he could pass up, so naturally this is bound to lead to something unfortunate, like an incident involving a glass-crushing machine at a recycling center that turns human flesh into meatloaf. This is the sort of thing that is bound to make for a crazed super-villain, don’tcha know, in the tradition of Batman’s chemically-altered nemesis, Two-Face, as seen in last summer’s The Dark Knight. Sadly for Billy, he ends up with more than only half of his face ruined, and so he re-invents himself as the singularly named and aptly descriptive Jigsaw, which pretty much tells you what he looks like. Actually, kudos have to go to make-up supervisor Melissa Purino (A Near Death Experience) and her team for developing the most grotesque (and nearly nauseating in close-up) look for West’s character, which includes some eye prosthetics that look sickening and painful (not to mention painfully real). It’s only a shame he chooses to call himself Jigsaw since that name is so synonymous with the nut-job killer in the Saw series and is a tad distracting.

The war between Jigsaw and The Punisher doesn’t have a particularly meaningful beginning other than it is just The Punisher’s job to dole out violent self-administered justice to slimeballs everywhere. There are flashbacks for those unfamiliar with The Punisher to explain where and why he has become the crime fighter he is today, but you could just as easily get that information from watching either previous incarnation of The Punisher, first filmed in 1989 and starring Dolph Lundgren in the title role and again in 2004 starring Thomas Jane. Both dealt extensively with The Punisher’s origins, which are only briefly touched on in Punisher: War Zone, allowing for much more time dedicated to firepower and gang warfare, as Jigsaw rallies Mexican drug cartels, Black street gangs, and Chinese Triads together to attack their common enemy ~ The Punisher ~ even though they usually spend their time fighting one another.

Look for the necessary damsels in distress to also make an appearance in the form of an innocent FBI widow Angela Donatelli (Julie Benz; tv's “Dexter”) and her ten-year-old daughter, Gracie (debuting Stephanie Janusauskas). There’s always got to be a couple of broads to hold hostage in a movie like this because nothing will break a Punisher’s heart more than a gal and a kid with guns to their heads.

I truly expected to hate
Punisher: War Zone going in. I mean, please, it has zero buzz, no advertising budget, and it’s based on a comic book that isn’t even popular ~ at least it wasn’t when I was reading comics back on cave walls. Plus I know he doesn’t fit into the normal realm of those “good guy” superheroes that fight “for truth, justice, and the American Way” and manage to do it without killing the enemies around him. According to Wikipedia.org, they estimate that The Punisher has knocked off 2,000 bad guys over the course of his comic book career in the 1980s and early ‘90s. I think he manages that many in Punisher: War Zone alone, and how cool is that? It takes some great acrobatics and a lot of bullets to manage a trick like this and not take one yourself. For a guy without webs squirting out of his wrists or the ability to fly up, up, and away, The Punisher is still darn fun to spend a couple of hours with. Sure, he could be President of the NRA, and I just know he voted for McCain (he has that kind of vibe), but I still think he is pretty darned entertaining for a mass murderer. At least he is better looking than Charlie Manson.

2 comments:

nomad310 said...

Okay review you have there. Thanks. I wonder, though, at your musings about Lexi Alexander. Lexi is a charming young lady, petit and VERY attractive. She recently married her first AD (male, that is) from Punisher War Zone. And she's not the least bit hairy. Wot? Women with interests and accomplishments different from those of the majority must still have their true genders called into question? I know you meant to show us how clever and humorous you are. It just wasn't, really, and worse it was potentially damaging to the individual and to others who may not fit so well in however you define the gender groove. I thought at least women had moved beyond those notions. My bad.

Clamzilla said...

Thanks for the comment. Yes, I was just being snarky as always, but I appreciate your sensibility.