MAYHEM AND ARIA GIOVANNI TOPLESS? | Aug 20, 2004
Heylos all. We caught a late screener on Thursday night but haven’t had the chance to get around to the review until now.
The Punisher leaps and pounces, offering relentless action while shifting giddy humour to charismatic overdrive. Akin to this, you’ll see a tricked-out 1969 Pontiac GTO complete with a huge Pontiac 455 block (in theory) and handmade roll-down bullet-proof shields, the obligatory car chase (this time in trucks across unpredictably unstable sand dunes-- upping the reduced traction/roll-over factor, hinthint), and enough exotic car explosions to keep you satiated until the next Marvel movie comes out. Also, Armani villains hiring thugs without fashion sense, and incredibly original combat and death sequences. There’s a torture scene involving a popsicle that you _have to see for yourself!
The amazing thing is, practically everything has a realistic twist to it. Frank isn’t superhuman and gets intermittently pulverized, but in most cases his military training, determination, and really big guns are enough to allow him to slip by with near-misses and bound away from errors in judgment. He even utilizes other characters’ thirst for revenge to aid him in his plight.
But wait, am I getting ahead of myself here? Naw, you already know what its about: Illegal gun deal goes bad and a money laundering kingpin’s son is accidentally killed. Dad wants revenge. Mom wants more than revenge; she wants the guy to suffer. The victim then witnesses the assassination of his entire family at his retirement banquet/reunion. Left for dead, he is “resurrected” by a local shaman/crazy gasoline man (otherwise the movie would be over really quick, eh?). After he physically recovers, he figures he has nothing left to lose and sets out to do harm to his enemies and whup some butt in the name of “justice”. But can violence ever be justified? Does violence beget violence? Revenge allows us a destructive segueway to “redemption”, as if the ephemeral release of rage cleanses and renews for all parties involved. As if revenge is just a 50/50 battle that ends with the villains kowtowing and realizing (too late) the error of their ways.. *sigh and faint*.
Perhaps we forgive him because Frank Castle is such a “good guy”: he fought for our country, our citizens, was a devoted father/husband --even though his line of work jeopardizes their safety, causing them to constantly pack up and move. Or maybe because he’s such the badass and we rush to see some testosterone laden beatings. Either way, I must admit that there were some sequences where I felt guilty for rooting for him. In a full-on revenge film, confidence in the martyr’s goal is key, but at times, the Punisher’s heroism surge slipped.
Thankfully, morals are infused in other vignettes and in other characters. Revenge is a curse, as in Verdi’s opera Rigoletto, and in one scene La Donna è mobile wails triumphantly while Castle thwarts a bulky bounty hunter. Lanky, pierced anti-hero Ben Foster survives serious torture for the sake of comaraderie. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos does her best soap-opera bit with lines like “your memories can kill you” and “good memories can save you.” She’s great at cheeseball stuff like that because she looks like she doesn’t take it too seriously. John Travolta is perfect as the crafty but clumsy cotton-mouthed czar, yet, like the chopped up role in Swordfish, doesn’t culminate the sense of terror and tension that a movie villain should.
I’d have to say I agree for the most part, both with Kris’s take on the film, and the difficulty in writing a coherent review for the film.
Based on the two primary Punisher comic runs of the 1980’s and 90’s, the film has a definite Reagan era/grunge sensibility, while managing to erase from memory the stench of the Dolph Lundgren original. Set in Tampa, Florida, the latest film adaptation has the Punisher cleaning up Cuban mafia scumbags with his trademark brand of--well, punishment.
But are they really so deserving of his beatings?
The prerequisite for any successful revenge flick states that the baddies must commit a transgression heinous enough that any violence sought in retribution by the protagonist seems pale in comparison. Knowing the jaded nature of today’s viewers, this version attempts to come up with something just as shocking as the rapes and killings found in late 70’s and early 80’s exploitation fare. In this film Frank Castle’s destiny is set when mafia thugs gun down every man, woman, and child attending his family reunion, and then proceed to run over his wife and kid with a truck. If that wasn’t enough, they shoot Castle in the legs, beat him to a pulp, shoot him again (in the chest this time), and attempt to torch and blow up his presumably dead body. In the 21st century, this is about as hardcore as you can get.
Needless to say, the wake of violence ‘Original Pun’ leaves in his path is as darkly creative as it is brutal. In one scene, slightly reminiscent of Ichi the Killer, Castle shoves a knife through the bottom of a thug’s jaw, only to have it glimmer from inside his mouth. WHOA!
The acting itself is equally surprising. Thomas Jane (Boogie Nights, Deep Blue Sea) turns in quite a good performance as the gravelly voiced, emotionally exhausted Frank Castle. John Travolta, who really seems to excel as a villain, is equally good in the role of crime boss, Howard Saint. Likewise, Rebecca Romijin, playing in her third Marvel Comic film, turns in a performance about as good as one could hope to expect from her. You even have an excellent bit performance by Mark Collie as Harry Heck, an assassin clearly inspired by Rodriguez’s El Mariachi. And for all the porn fans out there, there’s even a cameo by a topless Aria Giovanni.
Eschewing clever dialogue and homage-heavy plot camp in favor of brutal violence and gratuitous destruction, the film exists solely to sate our primal fascination with chaos. Normally this would be a bad thing, but as a piece of popcorn revenge-exploitation mayhem, The Punisher totally works.