Jonathan Hensleigh brings us a stylistically confused tale of vengeance with awful dialogue and John Travolta doing his elegant-baddie thing.
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By Stephanie Zacharek
April 16, 2004 | There's always some element of stylization to movies adapted from comic books, and there needs to be: Even though it's 2-D, good comic-book art has its own vitality on the page. You can't capture that energy on-screen by going for unvarnished realism, or even pseudo-realism. With its dialogue, its action and its color palette, a good comic-book movie can land you immediately in its new world -- or it can completely lose you in the first five minutes.
"The Punisher," based on a Marvel comic and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh (the screenwriter behind "Die Hard With a Vengeance," "The Rock" and "The Saint"), gets us lost early in the first half-hour and never succeeds in completely luring us in. From the start, Hensleigh doesn't know what tone he wants to strike, and by the time he figures it out, it's too late. This is a brooding, righteous-vengeance fantasy in which a recently retired FBI special agent, Frank Castle (played by Thomas Jane, who appears to have been sculpted out of rock, or at least some sort of plastic clay), goes after crooked Tampa business tycoon Howard Saint (John Travolta, delivering his now-patented elegant-baddie performance).