Sunday, September 26, 2004

DVD: The Punisher (2004)

That stuff I said about TWISTED being the worst movie of the year? Forget it. This is what I get for reordering my Netflix queue when I’m sick.

THE PUNISHER was part of April’s bring-a-covered-dish-best-served-cold potluck, along with KILL BILL, Vol. 2 and MAN ON FIRE. I saw the other two in the theater, so it’s not like I have anything against revenge fantasies. This one is based on the Marvel comic character who, it should be noted, began as a villain.

FBI agent Frank Castle (Tom Jane) starts down his bloody road after his entire extended family is massacred. It’s another sign of Hollywood inflation. In the original DEATH WISH, an attack on his wife and daughter that led to his wife’s death was enough to transform Charles Bronson into a vigilante. Now the Castle family reunion has to be strafed with machine guns, because otherwise we might not think the bad guy deserves it.

It’s not that THE PUNISHER is incompetent, although that’s certainly true. Every character behaves stupidly, none more so than preening baddie John Travolta, who hardly seems worth Castle’s efforts. Some of the characters’ actions beggar belief; writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh has a woman leave a purse containing a pair of Harry Winston earrings in her car while she goes to the movies. Not once, but twice. The tone is wildly inconsistent. We get incipient alcoholism and ‘comic’ fight scenes that drag on forever. The dialogue sucks.

For most of its running time, the movie is a lousy action film deserving of the MST3K treatment. But the climax - which involves an act of violence against Travolta’s character that is a.) excessive, b.) filmed in loving detail, and c.) being perpetrated against American serviceman overseas – did something that no movie in a lifetime of movie-watching has ever done. It awakened feelings of moral revulsion. Feelings that only intensified when Hensleigh capped the mayhem with a joke, and then closed with an image of Castle as a hero. I suppose some congratulations are in order. This movie actually made me feel unclean.


I stumbled onto a rebroadcast of one of the 1984 debates between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale last night. Quick thoughts:

1. I was unnerved by the amount of time devoted to the issue of terrorism, in the wake of the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon. Mondale accused Reagan of ignoring intelligence, Reagan spoke of using U.S. troops to bring democracy to the Middle East. Different candidates and locations, same problems.

2. Reagan acknowledged the difficulties in combating suicide bombers who were convinced that their actions would lead them to paradise. It’s a note of realism lacking in the current debate.

3. Reagan also said that international cooperation had led to an end of the problem of skyjacking. If only.

4. If I hear any questions on Thursday night that are half as tough as those posed in ‘84, I’ll be enormously surprised.

Miscellaneous: Link

Matthew Klam’s cover story in the New York Times Magazine is widely seen as the death knell for blogging. Or at least for the coolness of it. It’s a fun read, though. Klam finds it hard to fathom that the cutting-edge types he profiles (like Wonkette) would give up their cachet for a gig in mainstream media. Not to point too fine a point on it, but duh. Isn’t that why anybody starts a blog? Let me remove all doubt: I, Vince Keenan, am available for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and alternative weekly thinkpieces.