Saturday, April 11, 2009

#130: Punisher: War Zone


Punisher: War Zone
Directed by Lexi Alexander
Written by Nick Santora, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway
Released December 5, 2008

Or, Why I love my brother, Reason #447:

My brother called and woke me up this afternoon (hey, I work 13 hour night shifts) for the explicit purpose of convincing me to rent and watch Punisher: War Zone immediately. The chat went something like this truncated version:

RYAN: Okay, I don't know if you're busy today, but you have to watch (the movie) as soon as possible. It may be one of the worst movies I've ever seen.

ME: Whoah, that's a bold statement. Worse than Ghost Ship?!

RYAN: WAY worse than Ghost Ship! (For some reason, Ghost Ship has become one of our gold standard bearers for the running title of Best Worst Movie Ever Made.) It may be the most violent movie I've ever seen, too.

ME: What? More violent than Rambo?

RYAN: It is at least AS violent as Rambo. Seriously, you've got to see this movie.

RYAN's WIFE, JAMIE: Why are you telling him to watch it if it's such a bad movie?

RYAN: Because bad movies are fucking awesome! Why doesn't anyone else get this concept?!

My brother was so enthused about the inherent badness of this new installment of The Punisher (aside from the terrible 2004 movie starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta, there was also an even worse flick from 1989 which starred Dolph Lundgren)that I immediately sought it out on the Xbox live video marketplace, plunked down my bucks and took in the awful glory.

How do they keep fucking up The Punisher so badly? It's not like it's a hard story to tell: war veteran Frank Castle and his family witness a mob hit and are executed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Papa Castle survives, goes underground and becomes an armed-to-the-teeth vigilante.

Fairly simple. Action Movie 101 kind of stuff. And yet here we are, 3 movies down and each one a ridiculous failure. The primary issue in all three films has been the miscasting of pivotal roles, namely the titular crime fighter. Thomas Jane probably got the character closest to realization, despite the fact that the dude is probably a hair shy of 5 feet tall.

This time around, Castle is played incredibly dead-eyed and charisma-free by Ray Stevenson, so good in HBO's Rome and so, so boring here. Even more disappointing is the work of Dominic West as head baddie/mob boss Billy Russoti (who adopts the nickname Jigsaw after a comically violent clash with the Punisher early in the movie). West played Jimmy McNulty on another HBO series, the acclaimed The Wire and rightfully became that show's shaky moral -- or amoral -- center. West's performance here is a massive disappointment, especially when you compare the believable accent he pulled off on The Wire to the Italian (more like SLIGHTalian) one he employs here.

For fans of laughably bad movies, this shitheap is a true gem of cinematic ineptitude. You might think, "What idiot wrote this piece of shit?" Here's how terrible Hollywood is: it took THREE idiots to write this piece of shit! It took three guys and a reference library of hundreds of Punisher comics to bounce around ideas before coming up with a final line of dialogue like, "Ugh, now I got brains all over me." I'd actually love to see a copy of the final draft, because I would really like to know if "cut to a montage of lots of guys loading lots of weapons" appears a dozen times on paper, or if all that garbage is just implied by the type of movie we're dealing with.

Did three guys all really collaborate and decide that having one of the bad guys menacingly say, "Yummy yummy yummy... in my tummy tummy tummy" was not actually hilarious? Or how about the part where Frank pulls an axe out of his buddy's chest, intoning, "Don't die on me!" Dude, your homey took 3 axe blows to the heart. He's going to die on you.

Oh, that reminds me about the violence! Wile E. Coyote would piss his ACME trousers if he saw some of the stuff that goes down here. At one point, Castle kicks a chair leg into someone's eye, and later on smashes a man's head like a melon with a single punch. He shoots a punk rock meth addict acrobat (I'm not making this up) out of the sky with a rocket launcher (I'm not making that up, either). After blowing off the kneecaps of one thug, he tosses him off a building, impales him on a fence, and then jumps off the roof to deliver a neck-breaking death blow with his foot.

It's actually pretty deplorable. That sound you just heard was Wile E. Coyote ingesting a stick of lit dynamite to try and forget it all.

Just totally fucking inept. At one point, Jigsaw and his gang tear apart a victim's home, searching for large sums of money in CD drawers and dish racks. These guys are terrorists aiding the annihilation of New York City, and yet here they are dicking around shooting the heads off stuffed animals like some astoundingly idiotic evil Daniel Stern from Home Alone.

The bad guys have so little instinct for self preservation that one literally shrugs when a grenade is rolled at his feet. He doesn't dive for safety or try to kick the grenade back. He just shrugs, as if he had been having some sort of existential crisis and just found his purpose in life with the delivery of said grenade.

Just awful. And yet, awesome.

I once dragged a buddy with me to see Deep Blue Sea, that shark movie with Samuel L. Jackson, simply to try and share the joy in schlock cinema that I had found with my brothers and friends back home. As we left the theater, he seemed shocked or dismayed.

"Wow," he said, embarrassed. "That was really bad."

"Fuck yeah it was," I replied. "Awesome."

For more on Punisher: War Zone:
- Movie information at IMDB
and Wikipedia.
- Don't buy the DVD. I can think of tens of thousands of better things to do with that money. Maybe hunt down a few issues of the comics instead?

The trailer for Punisher: War Zone:

No comments: