Punisher: Laugh Zone

Movie title: Punisher: War Zone (2008)

D+ (1 1/2 star)


Vigilante Frank Castle (The Punisher) takes on the mob and the infamous Jigsaw.

Spoilers ahead:


Punisher: War Zone is a gory, violent, and manically ridiculous film. Let’s get that straight from the word “go.” But watching it takes you back, back to the mindlessness of 1980s action films. I’m ashamed to admit it, but a small part of me actually liked this slop. The plot is nothing special, the acting is nothing special, and the story is, well, nothing special, but it had a carefree decrepit-ness to it that made me hate it less than I otherwise would have.

In a creepy way, it was sort of appealing. It made me feel like I didn’t have to care about anyone or anything. I was being beckoned to jump into a grim world of darkness and death. All it wanted me to do was enjoy the mayhem. I liked that!

It’s no big credit to the movie, but I thought it was funny. It’s called War Zone, but it’s more like Laugh Zone. I was in stitches during parts of this film, which is the reason it goes from getting an F to getting a D+. I was almost entertained!

You know your movie is going to have problems when rollerblading street punks stay high on meth and gut convenience store clerks for the hell of it. Remember those cheesy 80s martial arts flicks where everyone fought to the death for no reason? Well, those wastes of tape were arguably a tad worse than this, but not much. Here, we are given glimpses of a post-apocalyptic society (where violence and thuggery are the norm), but in a non-apocalyptic world. The villains seem to be evil for evil’s sake!

And by the way, rollerblading junkies who wear dreadlocks and stay high on crystal meth do not master acrobatic fighting maneuvers! They just don’t. No, junkies stay in their houses made from empty Huggies boxes under bridges and waste away. They don’t spend their days killing for the sake of killing and then laughing about it.

But as the story goes, Frank Castle has off-ed most of the bad guys in town. One obstacle remains, however; an insane Billy Rossoti “Jigsaw” (Dominic West) and his way more insane brother “Looney Bin Jim” (Doug Harrison) want Punisher dead in a big way. This leads to a citywide war, as per the “War Zone” part of the title.

Now Looney Bin Jim is the next major item of consideration because he too is an acrobatic karate expert like those rollerbladers, and he is every bit a match for Castle on Castle’s best day. Jim is a cackling crazy man who doesn’t just kill; he somehow instantly rips open fat men and eats their kidneys as they are dying while his sicko brother stands by and just watches with laughter. My thinking is, the writers could have cut down on the caffeine and realized that you don’t have to have a character actually EATING another character Hannibal Lecter-style to convey insanity. How many nutcases do you know who eat someone? Ok, there was Dahmer and Shawcross, but I bet you can’t think of too many others.

This is a riot, isn’t it? I’m laughing as I write!

The vandalism in Punisher is notable. That old Looney Bin Jim breaks mirrors so that his hideous-looking brother who calls himself Jigsaw won’t see himself and feel bad about his marred appearance, and he throws plates and brakes glass while pillaging houses – even when he knows he won’t find anything in doing so – all while maintaining a mafia-mixed-with-madness image.

Am I the only one who finds this despicably funny?

Okay, so what. The movie is cheap and chummy, reminding us of that wonderful-but-embarrassing decade known as the 80s. It’s a bad flick, but it’s tolerable for some, and may I say, it took a lot of shamelessness to put something like this out. What is not tolerable is that director Lexi Alexander botched the character of the Punisher, just as was done in the 2004 movie under the direction of Jonathan Hensleigh.

In the comics, the Punisher doesn’t care if some good guys get killed. The real Punisher would open fire on a crowd of women and children if he needed to get to the wrongdoers badly enough, and he’d chalk their loss up to casualties of war. He certainly wouldn’t be mourning the loss of dead FBI agents as he does here. But this Punisher shows little girls the merry-go-round of his slain daughter. Aw, how sweet!

This guy isn’t the Punisher. He’s just a tough guy. The real punisher is broken-in, too far-gone to have emotional regrets. The real punisher would scare the crap out of the audience. There’d be no taking hostages to back him off. He’s a bad good guy, but almost more bad than not.

The hand-to-hand fight scenes I liked. They could be seen and appreciated for what they were. The gunfights were lame. Next to the fact that the camera wasn’t on anyone long enough to enjoy the shots, it’s not a good idea to have an experienced gunfighter in a shoot-out hanging upside-down and spinning from a chandelier—that means you’re a stationery target, and if you miss your targets, it’s going to be a while before you spin back around again to hit anything! The excessive gore only made things crazier; cutting an old woman in two, villain’s heads exploding from gunshots…it was all too much.

Colin Salmon, as “Paul Budiansky,” played a good FBI agent who worked with the police taskforce as Castle’s semi-opposition. He exhibits good screen charisma and is one of the few characters with any dignity in the whole film. The police force have to oppose Castle, but they respect him as a powerful vigilante. That’s part of the story they get right. And if the film had not been such a miserable failure otherwise, this would mean something.

I’m just sorry to see yet another failure in efforts to make a good Punisher. The 2004 Punisher wasn’t ashamed to have a guy in a Popeye-looking sailor outfit beat the tar out of Castle. Plus, all we got from that one was cheesy humor and little devastation. The 2008 Punisher at least isn’t ashamed in its implicit message: Yeah, this is a base level, brainless action film. Death and violence is the way it’s going to be. If you don’t like it, quit watching.


Director: Lexi Alexander

Starring: Ray Stevenson “Frank Castle,” Dominic West “Billy Russoti / Jigsaw,” Doug Hutchison “Loony Bin Jim,” Colin Salmon “Paul Budiansky,” Wayne Knight “Micro,” Dash Mihok “Martin Soap,” Julie Benz “Angela Donatelli”