Punisher: War Zone movie poster
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Punisher: War Zone movie poster

Punisher: War Zone Movie Review

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Punisher: War Zone shot its way to DVD and Blu-Ray this last Tuesday, sealing the long, three-month gap between its disastrous theatrical run and its soon-to-be decades-long existence in DVD hell. The anticipation was killing me.

Punisher: War Zone is the best movie I watched between 5:30 and 7:20 pm on Friday, March 20, 2009. It is also one of the worst action movies I've seen in the 21st century.

In this quasi-sequel, Ray Stevenson takes over as Frank Castle, who has had a nervous breakdown and decided to go around killing people after the death of his family. Dominic West stars as the villain Jigsaw, a pretty boy Castle left for dead in a glass compressor and whose face is now scarred beyond belief. Jigsaw also thinks he's a badass Italian mobster and he and his crew spend an hour and a half pretending that they're intimidating.

I'm one of the few that actually liked the original Punisher; while not without its flaws, it was pretty bad ass (the slaughter of Castle's entire extended family anyone?), had a reasonable villain and actually had a plot. I never read the comics, but the movie was entertaining and committed to delivering lots of action.

Punisher: War Zone makes its predecessor look like The Dark Knight meets Citizen Kane. So where did this one go so wrong? Lionsgate made its first mistake by employing director Lexi Alexander. Alexander, who did a great job with Green Street Hooligans, proved with War Zone that mainstream action isn't his forte. The movie is so shoddily put together that it's incredible to think it was actually directed, assembled and proofed by human beings. The action is downright embarrassing, edging on incomprehensible. In the first big scene, Castle shows up to kill a bunch of baddies, but when he's flanked on all sides by guys with guns, he does what any deadly vigilante would do: he hangs himself upside down on a crystal chandelier, in the middle of the room, so he can swing around and shoot everyone Boondock Saints style. Who the fuck would do something like that?

These kind of silly antics occur throughout the movie, the sign of a director who is absolutely out of his depth. Furthermore, the action itself is painfully dull and uninteresting, sprinkled only with a little unnecessary gore. Complementing these problems is the screenplay, which, I'm pretty sure, was not written by a human being at all. Castle just shows up at random times to kill people, but he almost seems like a background character rather than the title character. Stevenson, who was an absolute badass as Pullo in HBO's "Rome," is given so little to do here it's not even funny. While Thomas Jane's version may not have appeased comic book fans, at least his character was somewhat developed; Stevenson's take is about as shallow as a puddle in a drought.

As for West, who headlined HBO's "The Wire," he is embarrassing. His accent and dialogue is cheesy. His henchmen are uninteresting and equally stereotypical. Jigsaw, as he is portrayed here, is one of the dumbest villains to come along in a long time.

It's unbelievable how bad Punisher: War Zone is. Horrible direction, a terrible screenplay and silly action sequences culminate to create the worst comic book adaptation since Elektra. Ouch.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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