Sam Strange Remembers: THE PUNISHER

Everyone loves a noble wuss.

As we all know, The Punisher is a comic book vigilante identified solely for his viciousness. He wasn't bit by a radioactive spider or enhanced by some serum. Instead, he wields the most useful superpower of all: Balls. He's okay with killing people. Which means he can't have an arch enemy. Which means the character's appeal is watching him kill the shit out of everyone. Which means his movies can't be PG-13.

It seems like I make a new Punisher movie ever four or five years, always trying to find that perfect mixture of profitability and comic book loyalty. If you make it gritty and true, you can't afford a name actor. If you get a name actor, your iteration of Frank Castle must be a giant pussy. One day we'll get it right. Or not. It really doesn't matter and it never will.

This particular Punisher movie is one of the wimpy ones. The whole thing starts out with Frank Castle as an undercover Federal Agent doing a drug deal with some losers. Instead of giving you a hard badass, the first time you see our hero he's wearing a blonde pony's mane and smoking an extra long Virginia Slim. He doesn't just look gay. He looks MacGruber gay.

The deal goes down and officers rush up to apprehend the bad guys. To really sell them on Frank's legitimacy, they shoot him with blanks. Shockingly enough, this scares the two slime balls and one of them lifts his weapon, inspiring the FBI guys to shoot him down. Afterwards, Castle takes off his squibs while he and his colleagues examine the dead bad guy. Everyone kind of shrugs as a million better ways to have pulled that off rush through their brains.

This is actually Frank's last job. At 32, he's finally old enough to retire. So he has a little party and heads to Costa Rica for his big family reunion. His wife is there. His kid is there. His Mom and Dad are there. After that it's just a bunch of faceless assholes in polo shirts and a couple token rednecks.

Unfortunately, the bad guy shot by the FBI happened to be a bigger bad guy's son. Here we meet the film's villain, Howard Saint (John Travolta). Saint's pretty pissed about his dead son. They were pretty close. We know this because Saint tells us he had to dress his son until he was 13 years old. He then goes on and on about how he taught his son to fasten his own diaper just in time for prom. And when he says goodbye to the boy at the morgue, he not only kisses his forehead and squeezes his shoulder, but thanks to a Travolta adlib, gives him a full lower-body massage as well.


Saint is one of those bad guys who simply tells his lackeys what he wants without any regard for how it gets done or whether it's impossible. Luckily, he has a magical right hand man, Quentin (Will Patton), a homosexual identifiable as such by his mustache, which just so happens to be the mustache I gave Travolta later in From Paris with Love.

Quentin is magical because he literally studies black magicks that helps him pull off all the impossible shit Saint asks him to do. So if Saint demands, "Who killed my son?" Quentin will consult his magicks and learn that the deal was set up by an undercover officer named Frank Castle. They even tell him he's at a family reunion in Costa Rica.

At first Saint just wants his goons to go kill Castle, but his evil wife demands his whole family suffer. No one clarifies if she means his immediate family or the entire collective Castle clan. As a result they err on the side of more murder, and the world loses over one hundred regular Applebee's patrons. They also shoot his mom, shoot his dad, and run over his wife and child.

In response, Castle just sits there and gets shot three times. The bad guys try to blow him up on a dock, but they accidentally blow him out into the water instead. The sea's salts accelerate his healing time and dolphins help expel the bullets from his chest. When he returns to land three months later, he is no longer Frank Castle, he is The Punisher. He says goodbye to his new dolphin wife and gets to work avenging the human one, Whatsherface Castle.

To prove it, he changes his clothes. Instead of dressing like a bland jerk, he finds a burned and torn T-shirt on the beach. It's a faded skull shirt his son purchased after some shady tourist hunter told him it had the power to "ward off evil spirits." It turns out this was a language barrier miscommunication. The shirt is actually a Ghost Rider shirt from Target, and therefore a wearable prayer to the "Spirit of Vengeance." And since The Punisher is now on a mission of vengeance, the T-shirt secretly makes him impervious to bullets and a genius at weaponry and violent prankery, both of which he'll need if he's going to annoy Howard Saint to death.


The Punisher goes to Florida and gets a dingy apartment co-occupied by three adorable losers. There's Blandy, an ugly, mousy girl played by international model and wife to David Bowie, Iman. Then there's a fat guy (played by Donkeylips from Salute Your Shorts) and a weird punk rock wimp with piercing all over his face (played by Bobby Budnick from Salute Your Shorts). They don't know what The Punisher is up to. He's constantly either drilling things, shooting things, or torturing people. They'd call the cops but none of them know how or even own phones. Because they're fucking losers, man.

Then we see why The Punisher is making so much noise. For one thing, he's been walking around with all 100 of his guns rolled up in carpets, so he gets to work right away sewing some backpacks. Then he plants trapdoors and guns all over his apartment. Then he makes his car all badass with a bigger motor and bulletproof windows. After that, he sets up a screen printing area so he can keep making new Ghost Rider T-shirts just in case.

With all these preparations done, The Punisher is all ready to get killing. First he needs intel, so he kidnaps one of whatever actors passed for a Joe Pesci in 2004 and hangs him up in his apartment to scare him with a blowtorch. Instead of blowtorching him though, he blowtorches a steak and then jabs the guy with a popsicle, as some kind of weird psychological torture especially designed to make The Punisher look like a pussy.

Either way, he gets information about how Saint makes his money and uses it to hijack a bunch of Saint's money and throw it out a twenty story window. He does this by tying up all Saint's money counters and tickling them until they give up the goods.

Downstairs he runs into two of Saint's goons and they have a little showdown which Castle easily wins. He didn't really mean to though. He just wanted to scare the badguys, but he accidentally left his guns that shoot "BANG!" flags at home and instead settles for writing "I like big guy buttholes" on their dead faces with a sharpie.

Next, Castle goes to a novelty store and buys a bunch of fake fire hydrants, which he uses to get Howard Saint and his higher operatives a bunch of erroneous parking tickets. He also buys a bunch of those fake twenty dollar bills with bible verses on one side and throws them down everywhere he suspects Howard Saint might be walking. At one point, Saint asks his right hand man for some peanuts. You might not believe this, but instead of peanuts, a spring-loaded toy snake bursts from the can when he opens it.


By now, Howard Saint is pretty steamed, so he asks Quentin to kill Frank Castle again, he doesn't care how. Quentin consults his magicks and the dark lord sends him an assassin capable of homing in on The Punisher's location, yet incapable of sharing that information with Quentin because all magick comes at a price.

So it comes that The Punisher is eating pancakes when a smooth-ass country singer steps in the same random diner to sing The Punisher a cute song about how he's going to die soon. It's a little short for radio play, but The Punisher gets the point. Then, instead of killing anyone, the singer just leaves, confusing everyone both on and off the screen. Later, The Punisher is in his car still trying to figure it out when the singer suddenly appears in an equal muscle car and rear ends him. The Punisher still doesn't know what the hell's going on, but pulls down his bullet proof windows and drives blindly anyway. Luckily, he drives right into the singer, though it does destroy his cool car and he has to hitchhike home.

Undeterred, Quentin immediately summons another assassin. This one's a big Russian representing what the years have done to Ivan Drago.


Just as The Punisher beat the Country Crooner with his tricked out car, he defeats The Russian with his tricked out apartment, though it takes a bunch more effort. The Russian withstands stabbings, shootings, and electrocutions with a smile. But when The Punisher hits him with a hidden pouch of Sneezing Powder, he gets distracted enough for The Punisher to push him down the stairs, accidentally killing him.

Undeterred, Quentin immediately summons another assassin. Except it doesn't work. He's summoned too many and he no longer has any daughters to offer. So he instead asks for The Punisher's address. This works. They go to kill The Punisher but find only the three losers instead. They torture one with food, one with a Twilight bonfire, and one with a shower, but I'm not telling which loser gets which torture.

The Punisher retaliates by using his fake fire hydrant to give Quentin and Howard Saint's wife a bunch of parking tickets that marginally prove they're sleeping together. Not only does he want to make Howard Saint mad, but he wants to show up all his college professors who said Othello would be impossible in the modern age. Unfortunately, his little prank goes too far and ends with Howard Saint killing both Quentin and his wife.

This is sort of The Punisher's lowest point. He's not exactly achieving his goal. Plus, he accidentally killed a bunch of people. Just when he's about to give up, the real spirit of vengeance, Ghost Rider, shows up and gives him a pep talk: "Look dumbass. If you're going to wear my fucking shirt, you need to get with killing some fuckers."

This doesn't exactly inspire The Punisher so much as scare the shit out of him, so he goes straight to Howard Saint's house to kill everyone. As a nod to fair play, he lets each goon shoot his bulletproof vest at least once before shooting back. Pretty soon no one is alive but Howard Saint, but The Punisher loses his nerve at the last moment. Luckily, Ghost Rider shows up and ties Saint to a car which he then sends into a full parking lot, exploding a shit load of cars in a pattern which displays his face in flame to anyone who happens to by flying over that exact spot at the time.

Having survived this ordeal, and knowing that Ghost Rider will come and save him out of any pinch, The Punisher decides to go into the professional revenge pranking business. Pretty soon he's fucking rolling in the dough, so successful that he can hire all three losers in his old apartment as unpaid interns.

(three stars)