A comicbook action movie with an unpleasant edge, The Punisher stars bland beefcake Thomas Jane as Frank Castle - a cop left for dead by the gun-toting thugs of money-laundering criminal Mr Saint (John Travolta). Angry and out for revenge, Castle transforms himself into black-clad vigilante villain-killer The Punisher and starts blowing people to bits. "This is not vengeance... but punishment," he argues. Um, no, it is vengeance and a pretty nasty one at that.
The directorial debut of Die Hard: With A Vengeance screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh, The Punisher shows the odd glimmer of wit, but it's largely an unrepentant wallow in bloody violence. There are some enjoyable elements: a bone-crunching battle with a Russian lunk, Castle's geeky surrogate family and X-Men's Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as a token love interest.
Not that Frank is very interested in her. He's a grim-faced man's man, who shuns girly emotions in favour of taking enemies apart. To that end, Jane frowns throughout, looking like a petulant male model with bowel problems. He's a damn sight better than Travolta, though, who extends even his low standards with a lifeless, charm-free take on a lifeless, charm-free character. Cartoon villainy is supposed to be fun, but the Pulp Fiction star looks like a haddock sucking a lemon (where's Alan Rickman when you need him?).
There is definitely an audience for this sort of brainless brutality and fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger's high bodycount heroics in movies like Commando will be satisfied. But you worry about the mentality of the people who made this picture. And while The Punisher rarely feels like a punishment, it never feels like a reward.