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.
Based on a true story The Longshots takes its inspiration from 11 year-old Illinois native Jasmine Plummer’s (Keke Palmer) incredible feat--becoming the only female quarterback ever in the Pop Warner football league. The film’s arc really revolves around the relationship between the young gridiron star and her down-on-his-luck Uncle Curtis (Ice Cube) a former high school football great who can’t seem to do anything right except keep his trouble-prone niece in line. With his own dreams on the field now reemerging in the form of Jasmine the two become an unlikely pair as he gets her to tryout for the all boys local team The Minden Browns. The skeptical coach (Matt Craven) becomes a believer watching her natural talent unfold. When he becomes ill the call goes out to Curtis to come in and help guide the team--now led by the unlikeliest of quarterbacks. In his recent family comedies Are We Done Yet? and Are We There Yet? Ice Cube (who started in gritty movies like Boyz N The Hood) seemed to be turning into the new Tim Allen a safe father figure that would be right at home in a Disney movie. Even though The Longshots is definitely PG it offers him an edgier role and a well-defined character to play for a change. Curtis Plummer is a lazy down and out ex-ballplayer whose passion for life and football have disappeared. Cube at the top of his game gets this guy and gives him three dimensions which makes his later scenes pay off all that much more. Perhaps it was having a real-life person to play that allowed Cube to stretch even in a rather formula vehicle such as this. The other key ingredient that makes Longshots work as well as it does is clearly Keke Palmer who made such a memorable debut in Akeelah and the Bee and confirms her promise as the feisty Jasmine. Together this twosome make The Longshots a pleasure to watch. Second feature by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst is no embarrassment as he clearly is serious about his new directing career and brings out all the action and comedy running through Nick Santora and Doug Atchison’s script. Getting a first-rate performance from Ice Cube and a sterling turn from Palmer proves he knows what he’s doing with actors which is no small task. The game scenes are well-staged and the football stuff seems authentic even though this story of a girl quarterback would not seem that believable if it weren’t true. Still no sports movie cliché is left unturned in The Longshots--right from the title to the end credits--but for some reason it doesn’t seem to matter. There are generous doses of heart and soul on display here making The Longshots a winner for the whole family.