When we last saw the armed-to-the-teeth vigilante Frank Castle he was fleeing Tampa after exacting his revenge upon the money launderer responsible for murdering his son wife parents aunts and uncles third cousin twice removed … But that was the old Punisher. Meet the new Punisher. Like Incredible Hulk Punisher: War Zone reboots a franchise by assuming we know enough about the Punisher without having go into excruciating detail about why he became judge jury and executioner. Another good sign: Ray Stevenson’s Punisher is back where he belongs in a dirty grimy New York not sun-kissed Florida. And he’s got his sights set on comic-book nemesis Jigsaw the alias of mobster Billy “the Beaut” Russoti (The Wire’s Dominic West). While trying to assassinate Russoti the Punisher accidentally kills an undercover FBI agent compelling him to hang up his guns. Russoti escapes but his face is torn to shreds by glass. With his once-handsome face stitched up like a 12-piece puzzle the rechristened Jigsaw springs his brother Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison) from -- of course -- a loony bin to help him punish the Punisher. So much for the Punisher locking up his war journal for good … No disrespect but Jane’s too much of a pretty boy to pass himself off as the Punisher. The big burly Ray Stevenson (HBO’s Rome) looks every bit the cold-blooded dispenser of justice fanboys know and adore. And the Northern Irish hard man possesses an intimidating physical presence something Jane inherently lacks. Jane though received significant leeway to explore the anguish resulting from the loss of Castle’s family. Stevenson wears nothing but a scowl as the taciturn and psychologically scarred human weapon which admittedly is in keeping with the comic-book character’s stony disposition. Then again the out-of-control West does enough emoting for an army of Punishers. With his exaggerated gestures dancing eyebrows and thicker-than-Italian-cheesecake Noo Yawk accent the Brit blasts through War Zone with the destructive force of a rocket-propelled grenade. This is a money gig for West and damnit if he isn’t going to have fun earning his paycheck. The Green Mile’s Hutchinson as Jigsaw’s organ-chewing sibling almost keeps pace with West. Seinfeld’s Wayne Knight does his usual shtick as weapons supplier Microchip. Colin Salmon fills space as a by-the-book lawman pursuing the Punisher. Rambo and Saw V’s Julie Benz -- who obviously can’t say to any sequel or reboot she’s offered -- is wasted as the FBI agent’s widow and the voice of Castle’s conscience. Try counting the ways the Punisher dispatches of his foes. He hangs from a spinning chandelier and sprays a roomful of mobsters with bullets blows up a man leaping between buildings punches his fist through a bad guy’s face sets another on fire and … well we could be here all day. Fair to say director Lexi Alexander’s blood lust drives her to come up with one grisly laugh-inducing death after another. With its Empire State Building-high body count Alexander’s does the impossible and out-Rambos Rambo. And quite frankly it’s everything a Punisher quest for vengeance should be. The 2004 Punisher seemed too disconnected from its source material. Why relocate from New York to Tampa? Or pit the Punisher against a villain from not from the comic book? Or have the Punisher setup Travolta for his fall when he lives by the gun? Jane’s departure paved the way for a reboot that’s closer to the spirit of the comic book and wants nothing more than to be an old-school shoot ’em up like Commando or Lethal Weapon. There isn’t a moment that goes by when you’re not howling at the disgracefully bad dialogue gasping in shock at each and every execution or wondering at just how much more dumb and fun things can get. Alexander the German director who turned sweet little Elijah Wood into a soccer thug in Green Street Hooligans isn’t trying to transcend the comic-book genre á la The Dark Knight. Instead she’s just wants to give us one hell of an adrenaline rush. “This is just the beginning ” Stevenson growls after taking care of business. Let the bodies continue to hit the floor.
Yet another in a continuing line of dismal Dane Cook so-called romantic comedies (Good Luck Chuck Employee of the Month) My Best Friend's Girl can’t seem to decide exactly what kind of movie it wants to be landing somewhere between gross-out humor and silly relationship dreck. Tank (Cook) is a moronic commitment-free sex-addicted loser who offers up his services to guys in need of keeping their girlfriends from jumping ship. The solution? One date revolving around Tank’s intentionally repulsive antics and they will come running back no questions asked. So when his roommate and best friend the love-struck Dustin (Jason Biggs) finds his new girlfriend Alexis (Kate Hudson) isn’t ready to marry him after just one month he turns to Tank to work his disgusting mojo on her. But it backfires when Alexis turns into a drunken sex-starved slut on their first outing to a strip bar thoroughly impressing Tank. The complications pile up as the mismatched pair fall in love and Tank begins second guessing the new relationship he has created behind his buddy’s back. Cook has now been down this road so many times it feels like yesterday’s warmed-up oatmeal. There’s no doubt he’s got comic talent and even a kind of oddball leading man appeal--but over and over he is asked to play the same garish guy an expletive hurling sex machine with no sense of social decorum manners or even common sense. He’s the poster boy for beer guzzling dunderheads who want jump into bed with no questions asked. He has a moment at the end of Best Friend's Girl in which he finally get the laughs but a little too late. Hudson is also apparently determined to take any script that comes her way floundering helplessly as the sexually confused Alexis who can’t seem to decide what she wants in a relationship: the good boy or the bad. Unfortunately she doesn’t seem to have any chemistry with Biggs--or for that matter Cook. All they do is shout at each other repeatedly using some form of the word “asshole” over and over. Biggs as the third wheel just doesn’t have anywhere to go with this role basically serving as an annoying plot device to get the two leads together. The only one who survives with any dignity is Alec Baldwin as Tank’s unapologetic womanizing father who offers up advice to his son that is blissfully politically incorrect. Sure Baldwin can do this kind of thing in his sleep but he does it with style even if wasted on this sorry enterprise. Eighties teen movie veteran Howard Deutch (Pretty In Pink) finds his career literally in the tank (pun intended) trying to unearth a romantic comedy from material that just doesn’t give him much to work with. Deutch is so divorced from the concept that it looks like he just turned the cameras on and let his stars improvise for the most undemanding moviegoers imaginable (even though there is a credited script supposedly written by Jordan Cahan). To top everything off he shoots most of it in unattractive poorly lit close-ups that do no favors for anyone particularly the usually bright and fetching Hudson. This looks like one of those movies in which everyone is having such a good time on the set they forgot to let the audience in on all the “fun.”
A perfect husband a devoted father a loyal friend a successful architect—yes Steven Burke (David Duchovny) is the kind of flawless family man we only encounter in hankie-soaking Hollywood melodramas. He exists solely to be killed off just so his friends and family can become better people through their loss. So it comes as no surprise that Steven dies a Good Samaritan's death while on his way home—of course—from buying ice cream for his two kids. If that won’t get you crying nothing will. Steven’s death leaves his wife Audrey (Halle Berry) a mess. She can’t look after herself let alone her daughter Harper (Alexis Llewellyn) and son Dory (Micah Berry). Instead Audrey turns to Steven’s best friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro) for help. Not really the smartest choice—Audrey despises Jerry for squandering his life and career on drugs. But Audrey’s desperate for a shoulder to cry on so she inexplicably invites Jerry to stay at her home while he tries to clean up his act. Quicker than you can say “rest in peace ” Jerry’s dispensing words of wisdom to Steven’s kids and in a moment of unintentional hilarity spooning with the lonely Audrey in her bed. Audrey naturally comes to believe that Jerry isn’t the strung-out leech she’s considered him all these years. Still we can’t help but count down the minutes until Jerry slips back into his old habits. Or wonder how long it will take for Audrey to kick Jerry out of her house when the inevitable happens. Things We Lost in the Fire serves an important purpose: to make clear that Halle Berry’s performance in Monster's Ball wasn’t a happy accident. As a widow unable to function without her soul mate Berry shakes up the otherwise maudlin proceedings with a rage and intensity that’s honest and fearless. Never afraid to present Audrey as occasionally cold and unsympathetic especially in regards to her treatment of Jerry and her children Berry nevertheless always makes us feel Audrey’s burning love for Steven without resorting to Joan Crawford-like histrionics. Too bad Audrey is defined only by her role as a wife and mother—Berry never receives the chance to show that Audrey has a life outside her family. She does share a good rapport with the typically brooding Benicio Del Toro whose ravaged face reveals more about Jerry’s lifetime of self-inflicted pain and suffering than words ever could. But there is a slight spark to be found in Del Toro’s sleepy eyes which gives us the impression that Jerry has what it takes to live one day at time with the support of his new friends. David Duchovny doesn’t do much beyond smiling like he’s just been named Father of the Year for the 10th time. Not that Duchovny needs to exert himself to make Steven charming and likeable—Steven is as happy and uncomplicated as Duchovny’s Californication philanderer is as sad and screwed up. Alexis Llewellyn and Micah Berry (no relation to his onscreen mother) nail the anguish confusion and profound sense of loss that comes with grieving for a dead parent without being annoyingly precocious. How disappointing it is to discover that not even the usually calm and collected Susanne Bier can turn Things... into something more than the standard Lifetime TV weepy of the week. The Danish director’s Hollywood debut is very much like her earlier character-driven dramas in that it is preoccupied with how established family dynamics shift in the wake of a life-altering event. After the Wedding and Brothers managed to be poignant without getting too gushy but Bier cannot keep Things... from drowning in its own sentimentality. The problem clearly lies with screenwriter Allan Loeb’s emotionally manipulative script which fails from the start to convince us Audrey would open her house to her late husband’s drug buddy. Ignoring Loeb’s hard-to-swallow premise Bier does an excellent job of establishing the relationship between Audrey and Jerry. Theirs is a well-presented study in co-dependency which results in an insightful—though occasionally obvious—exploration of drug addiction the grieving process and the pursuit of personal redemption. Things... smartly avoids making much of its interracial marriage—it would only overcomplicate matters—or taking Audrey and Jerry down a path that would led to an ill-advised romance. If only Bier and Loeb showed some guts in the way they portray Steven. Surely he had at least one skeleton in his closet to make him seem more human. Everything we learn about Steven—especially about the fire referenced in the seemingly cryptic title—merely reinforces the notion that he was too good for this world. Or at least the world Hollywood thinks we live in.
September 25, 2002 12:54pm EST
After Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal) a mentally disturbed woman who mutilates her body takes a typing course she goes looking for a job and is immediately lucky. Lawyer E. Edward Grey (James Spader) obviously not very demanding hires her as typist in his shabby and not very busy office. Grey is immediately annoyed with the errors in Lee's letters. Fortunately Lee has the support of her overly protective mother Joan (Lesley Ann Warren) and devoted boyfriend Peter ( Jeremy Davies) another loser with parents proud of his job at J.C. Penney's. But Lee and Edward both recovering from nervous breakdowns develop a sadomasochistic relationship which has the duo enjoying spanking and masturbatory sessions at the office. Lee grows so fond of the abuse that she purposefully makes mistakes to provoke Edward. Eventually Lee realizes that she doesn't love Peter and she and Edward acknowledge the perversity that binds them.
Gyllenhaal is charmless as Lee; the very talented Spader seeming to want to carry on with the Bud Cort banner is wasted in his role as lawyer Grey; Davies usually interesting in a variety of offbeat roles here phones in his familiar goofiness as the boyfriend; and Warren who triumphed as the slutty gang moll in Victor/Victoria has absolutely nothing to do here as Lee's overbearing mother.
Writer/director Steven Shainberg favors meaningless close-ups tacky sets and settings lugubrious and phony characters and lame material all around. He fails to make kinkiness amusing his characters compelling or his story dynamic.