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A comic book movie “made in Florida”

Orlando CityBeat Writer

More and more, movie producers are turning to comic books. So much of the work is already done. Buy the rights and you've already got a plot and visuals, usually with a lot of stuff blowing up. You also get a built-in audience of comic readers, a young demographic with disposable income who will drop cash to see its favorite characters on the big screen.

If you haven't read a comic book lately, they've become more like the movies that many of them eventually become. The plots are deeper and the storytelling is more sophisticated. The Punisher is the newest movie to start as a comic book, and in a lot of ways, it's a step back to the last generation of comic books. The mood wildly shifts from scene to scene, and you need to swallow some whopper plot twists.

Then again, if you want a deep mediation on revenge and morality, don't go see a movie called The Punisher. Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is an FBI agent, going undercover "one last time" before a vacation with family. Of course, the son of crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta) gets killed and Saint gets revenge by killing Castle's family. Then it's Castle's turn to punish Saint by taking apart his life.

We know Castle loved his family because he tells us, but basically, they're just plot devices so we can get through the origin of the story and get to the killing and explosions and stabbing and shooting and crashing and more exploding. Like comic books, we get lots of bullets but not much blood. That does change as the movie goes on. Castle's family dies very PG, but by the end, we get a cleaver in a skull and other R-rated nastiness.

Fans of The Punisher comic book might be disappointed in changes made, but the casual action movie fan won't mind. The comic book Frank Castle is much darker and brutal, killing anyone he feels is a criminal. In the movie version, it's a personal vendetta as Castle only goes after Howard Saint's family and friends.

The movie version also mixes in a lot more humor. Castle almost makes friends with two wacky neighbors and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, the most unlikely greasy spoon waitress you've ever seen. The one-liners and slapstick violence are crowd-pleasers, but they play out like they're pulled from a different movie.

As Frank Castle, Thomas Jane (Dreamcatcher) mixes Lethal Weapon-era Mel Gibson with a little Hugh Jackman/Wolverine. He's not bad, but not distinctive either. John Travolta plays Howard Saint as a James Bond-level villain, over enunciating and sucking on an unlit pipe while plotting his revenge. He's less menacing than in Broken Arrow or Face/Off, but it's an okay addition to Travolta's trend of charming snakes.

The Punisher was shot in and around Tampa. The Saints and Sinners Club was built in the old, vacant Bank of America Building. You'll also spot a couple Tampa bridges and see Florida beaches filling in for Puerto Rico. Floridians will notice a lot of people wear black in the movie version of Tampa. It must never be July there.

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