Directed by Mark Goldblatt
Frank Castle is a cop believed dead by the world who was taken on the persona of the Punisher. As the Punisher, Frank has been waging a one-man war and wiping out the criminals of the city but when the yakuza comes to town Frank must save their kidnapped children.
Dolph Lundgren stars as the Punisher/Frank Castle. Physically he is the look of the character at that time aside from the even then famous Punisher skull. Unfortunately, his performance comes off as kind of sleepy. I’m not talking about his physical performance but rather every time he speaks a line, he mumbles and it sound like you just woke the guy up. Get the man a cappuccino! And he does Rambo face when he is shooting his guns. You know what I am talking about. It is the most intense sneer coupled with a squint you ever saw.
Louis Gossett Jr. was just about everywhere for a time and here he is Jake Berkowitz. He is a cop that Frank rescued from self-destruction and is convinced with little to no evidence that this mysterious character only referred to as the Punisher that has been wiping out the underworld is actually his former partner. I am not sure how he came to that conclusion because it is never elaborated on. Was family man Frank Castle the kind of guy he could see flying off the handle and going on a killing spree in revenge after being presumed dead? Think about it. I would assume that since Frank’s body was never found that was how he came to the conclusion but then why does the police department think he’s dead?
80s films at times handled female empowerment poorly and this was no different. Berkowitz gets a spunky young partner in the form of Sam Leary (Nancy Everhard) that believes Frank Castle is alive and as well as being the Punisher. She thinks of the one thing that Berkowitz did not that puts them hot on the trail of the Punisher. Apparently Berkowitz wasn’t the super cop that Frank Castle thought he was. Even though she is the one that sets everything in motion by figuring out how to find him she is probably the most two dimensional of the characters. She is all generic spunk and then just quickly disappears from the story before the climax. She was pretty integral and then nothing.
Jeroen Krabbé plays underworld kingpin Gianni Franco who I’m assuming is supposed to be an Italian mafioso but given his accent he doesn’t quite sound like it. The guy plays great villains and he is a generally good actor but that accent just bothers me here. Franco comes off as a bit more complex than the others and that is all because Jeroen Krabbé’s skill.
At the time most of the Punisher stories took place in and around New York City and there are one or two instances that imply this movie is set there but everything else implies that it is taking place in sunny Florida. (It was actually filmed in Australia.)
Speaking of Australia, some of the actors they hired do better than others at faking American accents. I am uncertain why they filmed where they filmed and hired so many Australians other than they filmed there. Even if there were good reasons to film in the land down under, why not cast American actors? Bad Italian-American accents sound better coming from Americans than they do coming from Australians faking them. And it sounds like at least one or two of the children’s voices were dubbed over. The sound quality just does not mesh to my ear. And the kid that plays Tommy (Brian Rooney) is trying really hard to sound American and it shows. His voice slips so very often though.
Frank must go against the mafia and the yakuza. The 80s had a bit of a love affair with martial arts and oriental villains. Just look at the action movies of the time and there is usually some kung fu guy or ninja assassin in many of the action films of the era. This came out at the tail end of that craze and I assume that is why they tossed in the yakuza when mobsters would be more than enough. Given the character at the time, mobsters would have been appropriate.
The yakuza has decided to aggressively expand into the US and decided to subjugate if not eliminate local organized crime. Apparently because of Frank’s efforts they see an opening. Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori) goes through excessive trouble just to kill the heads of the crime families. It is very elaborate. She gets them to switch sides and become loyal to her by kidnapping their children who she then sells into slavery in Asia and then kills the assorted crime bosses when they come to a restaurant to swear loyalty and pay the ransom. While at the restaurant she poisons their drinks and shoots the one guy that did not drink anything. That is a lot of work.
The action is not bad by the standards of the era. It is exciting enough and visually entertaining even if it is a little over the top. Maybe you have heard but the film is approximately 92 minutes long and there are over 80 deaths on screen. The second time I ever watched this me and my sister did a kill count and I cannot remember the exact number. Roughly a kill a minute is high even by 80s standards.
This should have been a better movie than it was. This was the heyday of such testosterone fueled action movies. Revenge powered shoot ‘em ups were turned out a dime a dozen back then and most were better than they should have been. This wasn’t one of them. It amounts to little more than a well-produced basic cable film than it is a theatrical release. They really missed a chance here.
But somehow The Punisher manages to have a charm about it. At least for me it does. Perhaps it is because they were not trying to make a purposely bad movie with The Punisher. They put a lot of effort into this and you can feel it. It does manage to be an entertaining film if not a good comic book film. It gets the style of the character right if not the character itself right. He does all of things the Punisher does or did at the time but the way the character acts is not right.
The Punisher is an entertaining enough film. If you take it more as an 80s revenge film than as a comic book film, you will enjoy yourself. If you are looking for an accurate depiction of the character, then this movie is not for you. It will definitely appeal to action film fans but comic book movie fans probably not.