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Rated R
Copyright 1989 New World Pictures
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 19 May 2002

The Characters:  

  • The Punisher - Dolph Lundgren! The producers really wanted Michael Pare for the part, but he was busy, so they dyed Dolph's hair black. There, he looks like Michael Pare.
  • Shake - Yet another homeless actor spouting Shakespeare at random. Stop rhyming, damn you!
  • Jake - Louis Gossett Jr.! Obviously he has something against pizza.
  • Sam - Her entire reason for being is to move the plot along through computer expertise and listening to Jake.
  • Lady Tanaka - Leader of the Yakuza who wears an evil thimble on one finger. Takes a knife through the forehead.
  • The Mute Blonde Female Ninja (TMBFN) - The Yakuza pulled out all the stops when they went after the Punisher, but even this effort was for naught. The battle of the sexes is decided when her neck gets broken.
  • The Yakuza - They might be expert assassins and amusement park patrons, but the Japanese mobsters make poor speed bumps. Lots and lots of them get killed in various ways.
  • Johnny Franco - The ruthless leader of the American mobsters who finally gets what he had coming.
  • The Mafia - Mostly dead. Yup.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

After an interesting beginning, during which a gangster and his cronies are slaughtered by the title character, the film gets rolling. Frank Castle was one of the finest police officers to ever wear a badge, but a car bomb (planted by the Mafia) killed his wife and children. Now he is a ruthless killing machine called "The Punisher" and his vigilante efforts have decimated the crime families.

The beginning also features something I could have done without: Dolph Lundgren's unwashed buttocks. The Punisher likes to sit, in the nude, in his secret sewer hideout and talk to God. Not only is the audience treated to a soot-covered male ass, we also listen as the main character complains to God that he does not know if killing people is right or wrong. Truly, we are blessed.

Jake is investigating the Punisher's latest target (dead, very dead) when Sam introduces herself. She shares Jake's desire to track down the vigilante (he and Castle were partners once) and wants to help. At first Jake is hostile, but then Sam says, "I believe that Frank Castle is the Punisher." That single phrase breaks down all the barriers and the two police detectives become partners. I understand the same approach works with befriending people who believe in aliens and leprechauns.

Not to think this through, but why is proving that Frank Castle is the Punisher so hard? His fingerprints must be on file somewhere and the vigilante does not take precautions against leaving prints.

The Punisher's informant is a Shake, the pickled one. The brooding hero berates Shake for being several hours late for their meeting, but exactly what sort of idiot imagines that homeless alcoholics are punctual? Anyway, the latest information on the street is that all the crime families are working together to make a big drug shipment go down. Mr. P (the hip name Shakes calls Dolph) climbs onto his hog and motors off toward the docks.

In spite of old rivalries, the Mafia's operation is going smoothly until the Yakuza attack. Yes, you heard me right, Yakuza. The luckless Italians are slaughtered by the highly trained Japanese criminals, leaving only the Punisher to defend the West's honor. He does pretty good for a while, but is eventually wounded and dives off the pier. The Punisher is still recovering when Lady Tanaka delivers an ultimatum to Johnny Franco and company: become the Yakuza's pawns or you will never see your children again.

Looking for Isaac Hayes? Not here, but Shake, acting as a sort of inebriated conscience, convinces Mr. P to save the children. To get his point across, the Punisher makes an appearance at an underground casino run by the Japanese and shoots up the place. Using an M60, with an M79 grenade launcher taped underneath, he blows the bejeezus out of everything. The approach works; the Yakuza lay a trap and capture the violent hero after a pitched battle.

You know, with all the shooting in the movie a running gag quickly surfaced. That would be yelling, "He hates (whatever has just been shot)! Stay away from the (whatever has just been shot)!" At one point it was a panda, leading to a strange daydream about "Ranma Meets the Punisher," while the casino attack makes it appear that Frank Castle might hate slot machines.

The Punisher escapes from torture and death at the hands of the Yakuza, then he quickly gathers all the children, except Franco's kid, aboard a bus. Following a harrowing chase scene with Japanese mobsters attempting to force the bus off the road with their small trucks the bus stops at a police blockade. The children are saved, while Mr. Castle is hustled away to a maximum security facility.

Jake visits his old partner and does little more than scream, "Why? Why did you kill all those people?" He also laments that Frank will be convicted and fried in the electric chair. Um, it could just be me, but pleading insanity might be a valid defense option. The accused watched his wife and children die, lives in the sewer, suffers from severe sleep deprivation, and talks to God about the morality of shooting people. Dude has issues.

Justice is interrupted one more time when Franco's goons intercept the vehicle transporting Castle. The mobster does not want to kill his old enemy; instead he threatens to kill Jake unless the Punisher helps to free Franco Junior from the Yakuza. Both load up and stage an end run on the Asian enclave, proving yet again that automatic weapons are superior to a dojo full of sword-waving fanatics. However, even after killing off TMBFN and Tanaka, the two unlikely partners have to settle the score between them.

Unlikely as it may seem, "The Punisher" is better than a lot of movies in its genre. Lundgren is used as he is best, a big, brooding presence that rarely speaks, while the other cast members act their parts sincerely. Character development is nil, but with all the bullets flying the gap does not matter. Yes, the only major complaint is the director's decision to sandwich the entire movie between shots of hairy, unwashed man ass. Didn't need that once, let alone twice.


The B-Masters Cabal celebrates the release of "Spiderman" by reviewing "superhero" films. You know, "super" might be a poor choice of words here...
Stomp Tokyo: Captain America
Teleport City: Superargo
Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension: Superman IV
Cold Fusion Video Reviews: Robot Ninja
The Bad Movie Report: Once A Hero
Opposable Thumb Films: The Death of the Incredible Hulk
And You Call Yourself A Scientist!: Batman (1989)

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • Mirrors are not bulletproof.
  • Sleight of Hand 101 is a required class in European schools.
  • You can "walk off" being stabbed.
  • Using a chair against a Yakuza is like beating a Pit Screamer with a mace (try a flail).
  • Stealth is one of the things sacrificed when you ride a hog into battle.
  • Public transit buses are bulletproof.
  • Buttons work if you press, stab, or shoot them.
  • The battle of the sexes will not be decided with a choke hold.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 7 mins - Boy, I really didn't need this shot.
  • 16 mins - Look, we are all Italian!
  • 17 mins - Look, we are all French!
  • 18 mins - Look, we are all Yakuza?
  • 35 mins - Was that a woman?
  • 44 mins - Wingnuts? On manacles? That just seems like asking for trouble.
  • 48 mins - Told you so.
  • 49 mins - Throwing dart earrings - very elegant, yet practical.
  • 61 mins - Did "Trading Spaces" do your son's room?
  • 70 mins - Missing some bullet holes in the paper walls here...

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note punisher1.wav Detective: "Jake, we can not let the public think there is some psychotic ex-cop running around, whacking off wise guys like he's got a hunting license."
Jake: "Why not, huh? Why not?"
Green Music Note punisher2.wav Tanaka: "We are Yakuza. When your ancestors were still shepards screwing sheep on the Mediterranean coast, ours were the crime lords of Asia."
Green Music Note punisher3.wav Franco Junior: "Then, why am I here? My father's not a gangster."
Other Kid: "Huh? What, are you kidding? Your father's the biggest gangster and a coward."
Green Music Note punisher4.wav The Punisher: "I still talk to God sometimes; I ask him if what I'm doing is right or wrong. I'm still waiting for an answer and until I get one I'll be out here, waiting, watching. The guilty will be punished..."

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clippunisher1.mpg - 2.6m
He hates slot machines! Stay away from the slot machines!

More slot machines!

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