I hit the premiere of Punisher: War Zone in Hollywood last night, and those seeking a mash-up of the extreme, over-the-top violence of new millennium action-horror cinema with the sort of charmingly ham-fisted, blasé narrative incongruities of straight-to-video action flicks of years gone by can take a sort of depraved solace in the film, a ridiculous quasi-sequel to 2004’s big screen comic book adaptation, starring Thomas Jane as a Vietnam War veteran turned crusading vigilante. This time Ray Stevenson (HBO’s Rome) takes over the role of Frank Castle, still haunted by the murder of his family and still committed to taking out mafioso-types, including the especially nefarious Billy Russoti (Dominic West).
Battling over edits, director Lexi Alexander at one point reportedly considered taking her name off the project, and it’s not hard to feel sympathetic. From a storytelling point-of-view, everything about this movie feels cribbed and/or lazily reconstituted, and it certainly doesn’t help that the facially deformed Billy takes as a nickname Jigsaw, the moniker of another contemporary horror franchise puppetmaster. Still, faces are (literally) punched in, and bodies hit the ground at a prodigious clip. By its end, when the film has almost morphed into a surreal comedy, one realizes that this craptacular, so-bad-it’s-good mess is the modern-day, steroidal answer to classic-era Steven Seagal neck-punchers. All that’s missing is about a dozen lines of yelped ADR from expiring victims.