The Punisher: War Zone

Can we give up on the Punisher already? This is the third attempt to adapt Marvel's vigilante killer, with the third actor stuck in the thankless lead role, and it's no closer to respectability than the other two flops. Ray Stevenson (see HBO's Rome) does closely resemble the illustrated version of Frank Castle, an elite special forces vet driven to a relentless crusade on crime when his family gets gunned down by the Mafia; but he's got even less material to work with than previous star Thomas Jane, who wisely took a pass on another go-round in the skull-painted body armor.

War Zone basically acts like the 2004 version never happened, dumping the psychological approach of the earlier try in favor of a deliriously gory slasher flick dressed up in superhero drag. Instead of a reset, it weirdly feels like the middle installment of a nonexistent series, jumping right into the heat of Castle's one-man takedown of the vicious Rusotti crime family. After painting a warehouse red with splattered mobster guts, Frank gets inventive and tosses cocksure boss Billy "the Beaut" Russotti (Dominic West) into a spinning glass bottle recycler that turns his face into fleshy confetti. Once stitched back together (a la Frankenstein), madman Billy adjusts by slapping on a white snakeskin Nehru jacket and dubbing himself "Jigsaw," then breaking out his even crazier brother James "Loony Bin Jim" (Doug Hutchinson), for a bit of payback. And both have practiced their embarrassing goombah accents by listening to Andrew Dice Clay albums.

Meanwhile, Castle's trying to make amends to the daughter of an undercover agent who got caught in crossfire, and making nice-nice with his widow, played by go-to weepy damsel and anguished single-mom Julie Benz, who, with roles in Dexter and the last Rambo flick, seems to have a thing for psychopaths. For an angry loner, Frank's got a lot of backup, from tech support Microchip (Wayne Knight) and the nerdy Det. Soap (Dash Mihok), who has a major case of hero worship for his ostensible target.

Of course, the life expectancy of Castle's supporting cast is only slightly longer than that of his foes, who get dispatched in an endless stream of flying lead. Director Lexi Alexander never met an exploding squib she didn't like, and loves to zoom in on messy kill shots. The ultra violence is hilariously overdone — like when Frank blows up a guy in mid-somersault, or when he impales a dude on a fence spike then jumps on his face for good measure — but, like sitting at the front row of a Gallagher show, you might need a shower afterward.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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