If there is a female equivalent of Jason Statham, I think it must be Punisher: War Zone’s director, Lexi Alexander. No. She doesn’t take off her shirt. And she’s not secretly gay. But by God, she understands the Statham movie appeal, and she seems to know how to distill that magic and spray it back onscreen like a drunk, feral dog that marks its territory in blood and kidney chunks. Seriously: The 2008 edition of The Punisher is awful. It must be worse than the 2004 edition — there’s no way it can’t be. It is a pap smear during your menstrual period on your birthday awful. It is poop-chute streptococci dumped onto celluloid. It is hard-core bad.
But it is also hard-core awesome, like getting whipped repeatedly by a guitar axe during a Pantera solo. It hurts, ohgodithurts, do it some more! If you like violence, folks, and you don’t give a shit about anything else in the world, then The Punisher is an exploding head waiting for you under the Christmas tree. It will mess up your favorite shirt. You will not be cheated.
Hell, nobody told me what Lexi Alexander’s signature shots were. John Woo has his double guns and doves. Steven Spielberg has his watery-eyed little boys. Tarantino has his foot close-ups. And Lexi Alexander has her face craters. When The Punisher punches you in the face, he doesn’t break your nose. He craters your face. When The Punisher shoots you in face at point-blank range, your head doesn’t explode. It craters. And then it explodes. And the sick and twisted little boy inside of me will never get tired of watching a face crater.
Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) is The Punisher (2.5, I believe). He was a special ops trainer until a few years ago, when his family was brutally killed by a member of the mafia while they were on a picnic. A picnic! That’s classic so bad it’s good. It’s become his mission in life, then, to kill every member of the mob as brutally as possible, usually by cratering their face or twisting their heads off of their necks. Aside from a few bullets in his protective vest, things are going relatively smoothly for Frank until he accidentally kills an FBI Agent, who is working undercover in the mob. This, naturally, makes Frank despondent. Frank angry. Frank crater! In turn, he tries to take that anger out on head of the now otherwise dead crime family, Billy the Beaut (Dominic “McNulty” West), and does a pretty good job of it, dropping him into a glass-bottle recycling machine and screwing up his face something fierce.
Billy the Beaut comes out on the other side of the accident as Jigsaw, who is something like The Joker if he were being played by Paulie Walnuts and looked like a funshow version of Eric Stoltz in The Mask. Jigsaw frees his brother, Loony Bin Jim (LBJ) from the nuthouse, and they set about trying to terrorize the dead agent’s wife (Julie Benz) and kill The Punisher and his Q, Micro (Wayne Knight). Meanwhile, Frank is considering giving up the vigilante business on account of killing one of the good guys, but decides to stick around to protect the dead agent’s family. You can guess where it’s probably heading. If you guessed mass face craterings, you win 10 doubloons!
The Punisher: War Zone shouldn’t work. And on most intelligent, rational, logical levels, it doesn’t. It’s a terrible script and the actors were all seemingly culled from the straight-to-DVD bins. Seriously: Wayne Knight? In a major theatrical release? Dash Mihok hams it up, intentionally or not, I can’t tell. We all know how awful Julie Benz is from “Dexter,” but here, she’s even more appalling, overacting to the point of absurdity. Ray Stevenson’s acting is only salvaged by the fact that he has only 20 lines or so in the entire film. And McNulty. Motherfucking McNulty! He couldn’t bury that Yorkshire accent if he were 100 feet deep in a landfill, and here he’s trying to be a NYC mobster? But it works. It’s like Dick Tracy meets Friday the 13th meets an urban Rambo. It’s money-shot after money-shot and there’s hardly any time in between to consider just how mind-numbingly horrendous everything else is.
In fact, the only really redeeming thing about The Punisher is Lexi Alexander’s direction. I think she may be the best female horror movie director around (and the only one I can think of off the top of my head, unless you consider Twilight a horror film, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did). A bad director can ruin a good screenplay, but seldom have I seen a good director redeem a movie that is so otherwise loathsomely terrible in every respect. Self-awareness goes a long way. And Alexander knows exactly what to do with bad actors and a bad script: She makes lemonade. And then she craters your face with the pitcher.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives withi his wife and son in Portland, Maine You can reach him via email, or leave a comment below.
Punisher: War Zone / Dustin Rowles
Film | December 5, 2008 | Comments ()