FBI special agent Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is on his final assignment after which he plans to retire and live happily ever after with his wife Maria (Samantha Mathis) and their young son. But as any avid moviegoer knows last assignments always go wrong: A sting operation to nab a contraband firearms dealer results in the unintended death of Bobby Saint the son of Tampa Bay crime syndicate boss Howard Saint (John Travolta). The grieving Saint and his lovely wife Livia (Laura Herring) want the man responsible for their son's death to pay and use their underworld ties to carry out a massacre at a Castle family reunion. But unbeknownst to the Saints Frank survives the carnage and launches a mission of blood vengeance. Sporting a black T-shirt printed with a white skull given to him by his son (to supposedly ward off evil spirits) Frank becomes The Punisher with only one goal: To destroy Howard Saint and everything he stands for. Holed up in a dilapidated tenement Frank meticulously plots on a perfect revenge scheme--and finds unlikely allies in his motley neighbors Mr. Bumpo (John Pinette) Spacker Dave (Ben Foster) and Joan (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos).
As with any comic book adaptation the most important factor is how aptly the actor portrays the superhero or in this case antihero. Jane who last appeared in Dreamcatcher but had a more memorable supporting role as a stringy cocaine addict in Boogie Nights pumped up for the role of the Punisher making him a good physical representation of the comic book character and a convincing military combatant. Travolta's performance as Frank's foe Howard Saint is slightly derivative of the Gabriel Shear character we saw in the 2001 actioner Swordfish: a cold-blooded fanatical underworld villain. It's interesting to note that Howard Saint was not introduced in the comics but is an original character created for the big-screen adaptation. But the addition of Travolta to the cast brings much-needed bigwig star power to this otherwise lesser-known cast. Also introduced in the feature film are Frank's three neighbors Mr. Bumpo (Pinette) Spacker Dave (Foster) and Joan (Romijn-Stamos). These three quirky outcasts add a bit of comic relief to an otherwise grim storyline although the attempt at a love connection between Romijn-Stamos and Jane doesn't ignite any sparks. Look for an entertaining cameo appearance from professional wrestler Kevin "Big Sexy" Nash as "The Russian " sent to reduce Frank to a pile of flesh and broken bones.
The Punisher has quite a few obstacles to overcome in order to be embraced by moviegoers one of them being the 1989 straight-to-video version starring Dolph Lundgren which was just absolutely terrible. Not only did Lundgren look nothing like the comic book version of the Punisher but the film deviated too much from the original storyline. Writer Jonathan Hensleigh who makes his feature directorial debut here remains truer to the comic book's roots not counting the addition of some new characters and the crafting of Frank as an FBI agent. These variations on the comic book work however and help make the story a more character driven one. One element that misses the mark however is the setting sunny Tampa Bay Fla. Although the Saint's waterfront mansion is appropriately seething with opulence there is something "off" about a comic book story not set in Gotham or some other menacing metropolis. But despite the Tampa boo-boo Hensleigh's screenplay provides enough significant moments for moviegoers unfamiliar with The Punisher comic book franchise to latch onto and turns them into a pretty compelling story.
Top Story: Chris Rock To Host MTV Awards
After a four-year hiatus, Chris Rock will return to host the 20th annual MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 28 at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Rock told The Associated Press that he is going on a cross-country club tour whet his stand-up skills but added that most of the show's comedy comes naturally as the evening progresses. "You watch people host these shows who change outfits eight times in the show. No--watch the show. That's the most important thing," Rock said. "Half the time the presenters don't read what's on the cue cards and you never know when Diana Ross is going to grab Lil' Kim's [breast], and you'd hate to miss that because you're putting on something from Banana Republic." Rock, however, won't announce his comedy show dates ahead of time and tickets will go on sale in each city just 24 hours in advance, the AP reports.
Eastwood's Mystic River Opens NYFF
Actor/director Clint Eastwood's psychological drama Mystic River, which was shown in competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival, will open the 41st New York Film Festival on Oct. 3, Reuters reports. Eastwood also served as a producer on the project, which is based on Dennis Lehane's best-selling novel and adapted by L.A. Confidential's Brian Helgeland, and composed the film's score. Mystic River, scheduled for release Oct. 10, stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney. The NYFF runs Oct. 2 through Oct. 19.
Man Pleads Guilty to Bootlegging Hulk
A New Jersey man pleaded guilty Wednesday to bootlegging a copy of The Hulk and then making it available in a chat room used to post and trade unauthorized movie copies, the AP reports. Kerry Gonzalez, 24, pleaded guilty to a single count of copyright infringement and could faces six months to a year in prison when he is sentenced Sept. 26. According to court documents, Gonzalez obtained the tape from a friend of an employee at a Manhattan advertising agency that had been given an advance copy of the film.
Commission Investigates Russell Simmons
Hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, who is part of a coalition that has been working to convince New York's state legislature to relax the so-called Rockefeller drug laws, is now under investigation for his aggressive lobbying efforts. According to Reuters, the state's lobbying commission is looking into whether Simmons spent more than $2,000 to influence state officials and to see if he gave an illegal gift of a free helicopter ride to Secretary of State Randy Daniels last week. Anyone spending over $2,000 to lobby the state government must register with the commission and make periodic financial disclosures and state officials are not allowed to accept gifts worth more than $75.
Timberlake Joins Rolling Stones' Toronto Concert
Justin Timberlake will join the Rolling Stones in a benefit concert for the city of Toronto on July 30, Launch.com reports. Hosts by actors Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi, the eight-hour Molson Canadian Rocks For Toronto concert is being staged to put a positive spotlight on Toronto, which was hard-hit earlier this year by the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic. Others acts on the bill include the Isley Brothers, AC/DC, the Flaming Lips, and the Mexican group La Chicane. Three hundred thousand tickets will go on sale Friday across North America.
UPN Orders Another Round of Top Model
UPN has ordered a second installment of the Tyra Banks-hosted modeling competition series America's Next Top Model, Reuters reports. The hour-long series, which revolves around the elimination-style competition among 12 women to survive a modeling "boot camp," has been a godsend to the network since it premiered May 20. UPN has ordered 10 episodes of the next installment of Top Model and will be a midseason entry during the upcoming 2003-04 season. There is no word yet from the network on a premiere date.
Buddy Ebson Hospitalized
Buddy Ebsen, who portrayed Jed Clampett on the 1960s TV series The Beverly Hillbillies, was admitted into Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Calif. for an undisclosed illness, the AP reports. A hospital spokeswoman said Thursday that the 95-year-old actor's "condition is good." Ebsen, who lives in nearby Palos Verdes Estates, began his TV nine-year career as Clampett in 1962 and later took the title role in the CBS detective drama Barnaby Jones, which ran from 1973 until 1980. He has also written two books, including an autobiography, The Other Side of Oz and Kelly's Quest.
Role Call: Miramax Acquires Pippen, Linney Joins Punisher Cast
On the heels of the acquisition of the film rights to Damn Yankees, Miramax Films announced today that it has acquired the rights to the hit Broadway musical Pippin for development into a feature film. Originally directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, the tuner debuted on Broadway in 1972 and ran for five years ... Laura Harring has joined the cast of the comic-book actioner The Punisher, starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta. The Artisan Entertainment/Marvel Studios project revolves around a vigilante hero who dispenses harsh justice to criminals after his wife and children are slain by the mob. Writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh will start shooting the film next month in Florida and is scheduled for release next summer.
Top Story: "Matrix" Sequel to Premiere at Cannes
The Matrix: Reloaded, the sequel to the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix, will be shown out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival on May 15, the second day of the festival, The Associated Press reports. The film, which stars Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss will be released worldwide the same day. The Cannes Film Festival, now in its 56th year, is the world's best-known film festival and serves as a launching pad for movies that are shown out of competition. The festival runs May 14-25. The original movie won four Academy Awards and grossed more than $460 million worldwide. The third and final film in the trilogy, The Matrix: Revolutions is scheduled for release this November.
Kidman Shared Oscar Glory With Cruise
Nicole Kidman, who won Best Actress for her performance in The Hours, shared her Oscar victory last month with ex-husband Tom Cruise. The actress told People magazine in an interview published Thursday that she called Cruise in New Zealand after she won. "It was so important for me to talk to Connor (her son) and yes, to Tom. We have very different lives now, but as I've said to Tom, I will be there for him for the rest of his life, always there," she said. Kidman and Cruise's 10-year marriage ended in 2001 in a bitter divorce.
O'Donnell Demands Retraction From "Enquirer"
Rosie O'Donnell demanded a retraction Thursday from the National Enquirer tabloid, which printed a story on April 15 claiming she and her live-in partner, Kelli Carpenter, were on the verge of splitting up, Reuters reports. O'Donnell's attorney Bert Fields said she may proceed with a lawsuit for defamation and other claims--even if the tabloid retracts the story.
Nazi-Era Fund Seeks Spielberg's Help
Germany's compensation fund for Nazi-era slave laborers said it will seek assistance from director Steven Spielberg to record the testimonies in an effort to keep alive the memory of surviving victims, the AP reports. Officials said Thursday they would seek Spielberg's help for a plan to interview up to 1,000 survivors. Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, which was set up after the filming of 1993's Oscar-winning Schindler's List, has already videotaped the testimonies of more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors.
John Wayne's Son Dies
Michael Wayne, the eldest son of late actor John Wayne, died of heart failure Wednesday at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center following complications from lupus, an immune system disease, the AP reports. He was 68. He headed Wayne Enterprises, which owns many of his father's films. Among the films Michael Wayne helped produce were The Green Berets (1968), Big Jake (1971), The Train Robbers (1973) and Brannigan (1975).
Did CBS Staffers Bet on "Survivor"?
Costa Rica-based online sportsbook BoDog.com has dropped betting on the CBS reality show Survivor after allegedly finding network employees were wagering on the program--and winning, the AP reports. The players in question opened accounts with BoDog before Survivor: Marquesas, the fourth show, and bet on no other events. BoDog's Lance Bradley said they wagered correctly on who would be the final two contestants in both the fourth and fifth editions of Survivor. At least two players have been identified as CBS employees and other names may be connected to the network or may be aliases.
Fans Walk Out of Pearl Jam Concert
Dozens of fans walked out of a Pearl Jam concert Tuesday in Denver, Colo., after lead singer Eddie Vedder took a mask of President Bush and impaled it on a microphone stand, the AP reports. Several concertgoers booed and shouted for Vedder to shut up as he told the crowd he was against the war and Bush. During the show, however, Vedder said: "Just to clarify ... we support the troops." Vedder used a Bush mask in Australia and Japan to perform the song "Bushleaguer."
Role Call: Tim Story Exits "Barbershop" Sequel, Jane Joins "Punisher"
Director Tim Story has dropped MGM's Barbershop sequel to helm the DreamWorks' comedy Date School, Variety reports. Story denies money was a factor in his decision and said he was worried about repeating himself too soon ... Dreamcatcher star Thomas Jane will play the lead role in Artisan Picture's big-screen adaptation of Marvel's The Punisher for writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh. The film, which revolves around FBI undercover agent and tough-as-nails vigilante Frank Castle, is aiming for a summer 2004 release.