Review: THE PUNISHER (1989) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Review: THE PUNISHER (1989)

RATING: 2.5/5

After being left disappointed watching two big-screen reincarnations of THE PUNISHER (2004) and PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (2008), I'm really surprised those filmmakers couldn't even made a straight-up revenge movie in the right way. So here I am, revisiting the first movie attempt of THE PUNISHER which was created back in the late '80s. Unlike those two versions, this long-forgotten original attempt is surprisingly more entertaining and action-packed. But at the same time, it is also heavily flawed with plenty of hammy acting, poor production values as well as some questionable choice of directions -- with the most obvious reason like how come the filmmakers choose to ditch the trademark "skull" T-shirt and changes the origin of the character from ex-Vietnam vet to an ex-cop?

In this 1989 take, Frank Castle (Dolph Lundgren) is a shadowy vigilante who calls himself as "The Punisher". He's an ex-cop turned vigilante who sets out to eliminate the mob and he has been doing that successfully over the last five years ever since the Mafia, lead by the notorious crime lord Gianni Franco (Jeroen Krabbe), killed his family by planting a car bomb. He lives in the sewers, and relies on his drunken informant, Shake (Barry Otto) to provide him necessary information regarding about the various activities of the organized crime. The police force, especially Frank's ex-partner Jake Berkowitz (Louis Gossett, Jr.), has been working around the clock trying to solve the never-ending murder case (125 body count, to be exact) related to the bloody massacre executed by "The Punisher".

When Franco returns to town to head the Mafia family, he plans to unite all the Mafia families and overthrow the Yakuza, lead by Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori). However Tanaka is hardly a pushover, as she and her well-trained Yakuza men manage to bring down the Mafia easily. Not only that, Tanaka also plans to overtake Franco's business by gaining the most profit and also ends up kidnapping the Mafia sons and daughters, including Franco's son Tommy (Brian Rooney), all in an effort to sell them as slaves. The Mafia families realize they are outnumbered, and not even Franco can do a thing to make things right. However, his only chance is rely upon "The Punisher" to save their innocent children, in which Frank is forced to get involved one way or another.

The good thing about this movie is the fast-paced direction set by Mark Goldblatt, a former film editor who previously worked with James Cameron in blockbuster movies like THE TERMINATOR (1984), TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991) and TRUE LIES (1994). His extensive experience has certainly serves him well to stage some fairly decent action sequences with an entertaining mix of martial-art duels and violent gunfights.

However, the plot by Boaz Yakin, is sadly cut-rate and disjointed. Thanks to the harsh decision made by producer Robert Mark Kamen, he has unwisely rewrote Yakin's original screenplay to omit some crucial scenes especially the one involved the prologue where Frank is used to be a cop. That dramatic omission (which was reportedly being trimmed down 15 minutes in the post-production from the beginning of the movie) has certainly weakened the story further than they already are. What's left in the movie is nothing more than a (very) brief flashback showing the death of Frank's family, which is hardly enough to make us understand deeply what drives him so vengeful at the first place.

Not surprisingly, Dolph Lundgren's screen presence as Frank Castle/"The Punisher" is more of an empty shell. But the good thing about him is that Lundgren is definitely looks the part even though there's nary a sight of that trademark "skull" T-shirt. Standing tall at an incredible 6'5", he is downright imposing and athletic enough. Too bad Lundgren is also an inexperienced actor who broods a lot and looking very dull throughout the movie. It's a shame that his lackluster acting is constantly upstaged by other supporting actors, which in turn, a blessing in disguise. Veteran actor Jeroen Krabbe is perfectly typecast as the sleek Mafia boss while Louis Gossett, Jr. provides some noteworthy performance in an otherwise thankless role as the relentless cop Jake. Unfortunately the rest of the characters, especially the depictions of the Mafia and the Yakuza, are presented as cheesy and cartoonish as possible.

Technical credits are average at best, which is obviously ruined by its low-budget production values. Not only that, the movie is also hampered by poor lighting and shoddy sets. The location setting, which is shot in Australia, does a poor stand-in as New York City. If you are expecting the true grit of the Big Apple will be sorely disappointed by the inauthentic setting here.

No doubt THE PUNISHER was badly greeted by critics and viewers when it was first released back in 1989. The movie was actually made in 1987 but only released theatrically worldwide two years later except in the United States due to New World Pictures' bankruptcy and ended up in a direct-to-video instead. But despite the fact this 1989 take is hardly a faithful version of the Marvel comics character, at least the movie knows how to have some guilty-pleasure fun. Yes, it's a forgettable run-of-the-mill action flick but certainly worth a look for those who are curious how the first movie attempt of THE PUNISHER is started out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was filmed in 1988, completed post-production in 89, released worldwide in end of 1989/90 and then dumped on VHS and laserdisc in the USA.