“The Punishment Begins April 16, 2004.” And doesn’t stop for two fucking hours, if ever.
Entire Story in Fewer Words than are in this Sentence:
Revenge is a dish best served gay.
I could write a book on Tom Jane’s chest alone. So why not start with the best? The chest is most prominently featured in The Punisher’s (a.k.a. Frank Castle) mini “training” montage, complete with oiled pecs, phallic weaponry, and at least one full minute of working with tools. We then watch Castle drink heartily (sans shirt) in front of a massive fan. But I was most puzzled at the 36-minute mark when, for no reason, the camera held on Castle’s hairy chest long enough for a viewer to count the beads of sweat (eighty-three, by the way). Moving away from Castle’s strapping form, it could be argued that since he loved a woman, it was fitting that she meet a violent end. And then there’s Howard Saint’s (John Travolta) right-hand man, a closet homosexual, who at one point is photographed by Frank kissing another man. Frank also hangs a man upside-down (needless to say, the man’s shirt is removed) and proceeds to shut him up by shoving a “popsicle” in his mouth. Even Freud would have cringed at the lack of subtlety. There are also two weirdos who dance with each other while listening to opera; an assassin from Memphis who wears nail polish and sings to his victims; and a burly, blond Russian who is all corn-fed beef, and just happens to wear the tightest shirt ever released by a wardrobe department. Travolta wraps things up by stabbing a man to death in the most overt sexual metaphor ever seen in an action movie. As Travolta thrusts the “knife” (there are those pesky quotation marks again) into his victim, they embrace, and the pair groan, pant, and clutch. Release, cue cigarette.
A solid 45 human beings are sent packing, although a good chuck of the dead are Frank’s family (blasted in Puerto Rico by Howard Saint’s goons). It would have been 46, but there was some confusion during the opening sequence and I counted Frank as a casualty until I knew that he was undercover and only faking his death to capture a…….Christ, enough already.
How Bad Is It Really?
Retiring-FBI-agent-who-is-brought-back-in story aside, it’s not as bad as it could have been. Sound convincing? Fuck man, it’s a mess, and I hold John Travolta solelyÂ responsible. His acting is so bad that I had to wonder if he was actually trying to win next year’s Razzie so that people would pay attention to him once again. Hell, even has-been Roy Scheider shows up to embarrass himself (although he is quickly murdered). And I can accept that Frank is a tough guy, but must he really survive being kicked, beaten, thrown from a bridge, and shot in the chest at point blank range? Oh, I almost forgot that he was partially set on fire and blown from the dock after a massive explosion a mere six inches from his face. And I would chuckle at how ridiculous it was to watch Frank smash a glass case without suffering so much as a cut, but I’d be trumped by the fact that Frank also took a bullet in his heart on at least two occasions.
As usual, these guys save all their talking for those moments immediately preceding a murder. As one man states, “If you’re gonna kill me, could you leave my face alone? For my mother?” Surprisingly, his pussy is spared. Frank’s best line occurs as he is leaving Puerto Rico to begin his quest for revenge. A local man says, “Go with God!” Franks replies, “God’s gonna sit this one out.” Presumably he meant unlike the previous 10,000 years where the Almighty intervened constantly in the affairs of men. As the film ends, there’s another great exchange, made that much better by the booming soundtrack:
Frank: You took everything from me.
Howard: You killed my son.
(Wild screaming, massive explosion)
Frank: Both of ’em.
Stupid Political Content:
Very little, as this is 2004, and surely we’ve moved past divisive politics in our entertainment. Frank does make a manly advocate for violent revenge, however, as he practically repeats George W. Bush’s campaign rhetoric verbatim: “If you want peace, prepare for war……..Sometimes it is necessary to act outside the law.” And we’re with you, George.
Oooh, several worth mentioning, my friends. A man is set on fire by an exploding grill. A mother and child are run over by a truck (although the filmmakers cut away before the little one is squashed). Frank “fires” a knife into the assassin’s neck. Frank splits a man’s skull with the blade from a paper cutter. Travolta throws his wife off a bridge and into the path of a speeding train (here’s hoping he keeps this in mind for Kelly Preston). At least five people are massacred by an exploding champagne bottle. And finally, Travolta himself is dragged behind an automobile, taken to a car lot, and set on fire so that he may continue on (still attached to the car) through a maze of exploding vehicles and Hiroshima-like clouds of smoke and flame. No actor deserved it more.
What You Learned:
Whenever John Travolta is eyeing yet another comeback, stay the fuck away from the cineplex.