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Directed by: Mark Goldblatt
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett Jr., and Jeroen Krabbe
Following the basic thread of the Marvel comics “anti-hero”, the 1989 Punisher film recounts the now well-known tale of cop Frank Castle (Lundgren), a decent man whose family is murdered by Mafiosi. So being the radically awesome dude he is, not only does he get revenge on the scumbags that killed his family, he discovers that vengeance-based hatred of evildoers is like Lay’s potato chips: you can’t murder just one. So he goes to live in the sewer system and dedicates his life to exterminating bad guys, mainly Mafia types.
As the tale plays out, we see a gradually developing mob war between the Yakuza, led by the frightening Lady Tanaka (Miyori), and the Franco family of Italian gangsters, led by Gianni Franco (Krabbe). As their war for turf and money and such escalates, the Punisher is there too, picking them off like so many cockroaches.
When the children of the Italian Mafiosi are kidnapped and imprisoned, it’s up to the Punisher to save them, showing he has a human side and isn’t a remorseless killing machine. In an interesting plot occurrence, Castle must actually team up with his despised enemy Franco in order to rescue Franco’s son Tommy (Rooney). Meanwhile, grizzled cop Jake Berkowitz (Gossett) has been following Castle’s “career” for years and has teamed up with a new partner, Leary (Everhard), intent on finding him. Can the Punisher get any more awesome?
Lundgren was the perfect choice to play The Punisher. Especially when you add the black hair and stubble, his square jaw and outfit, he looks like a comic character (He was also perfectly cast as He-Man for Masters of the Universe, 1987). Speaking of which, the body count in this movie is ridiculously high. Between this, Invasion USA (1985) and No Dead Heroes (1986), the earth has been severely depopulated. But despite the dark tone, this is the type of movie where you cheer every time a baddie bites the big one. The antagonists are made to hiss and boo at, and all the many henchmen are bumped off in a variety of different ways and in different locations, so the copious murders never get boring. Sure, there are countless deaths, but they’re FUN deaths. Castle is even “credited” with killing 125 people before the movie even starts.
There are some classic bits, such as the obligatory torture scene, and the drug deal at the docks we’ve seen many times, but the idea of Mafia vs. Yakuza vs. The Punisher is just too cool. And the movie, thankfully, lives up to that cool idea. We get “motorcycle cam” of Castle riding around on his chopper, and even the bad guys have a nifty hideout worthy of any James Bond film. Of course, we’d be remiss if we left out the wacky sidekick. This time around it’s Shake (Otto), a drunken former actor that rhymes most of his lines. The equivalent character is the one “Newman” played in Punisher: War Zone (2008).
Louis Gossett Jr. always brings the goods and here is no exception. He and Dolph must be buddies, as they teamed up again for Cover-Up (1991)...perhaps Gossett wasn’t available for The Peacekeeper (1997) so they somehow rounded up Montel Williams to fill his seat. But the heavyweight Gossett can’t be easily replaced. For the main baddie they scored a classy actor in Jeroen Krabbe, who, if anything, seems even more evil in his stonewashed jean jacket.
On the technical end, this is a New World film, shot mainly in Australia. It was directed by Mark Goldblatt, the man responsible for Dead Heat (1988), the love it-or-hate-it Treat Williams vehicle (we love it). Now for the important part: the U.S. VHS is cut, shorn of many violent bits. If you’re going to buy this film, and we recommend you do, you have to get the 2-Disc Austrian DVD on the XT Video label. It comes in a hardshell box, and contains the uncut film on one disc, and the “workprint” on the other, along with some extras. Even though we had previously seen the VHS, to re-watch it on this DVD was a revelation. For a movie that revolves around violence so strongly, it would be crazy to see any other version.
To quote Exodus, it’s “good friendly violent fun” so add the (XT Video) DVD to your collection today!
Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett