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It's pure punishment to watch 'The Punisher'

'The Punisher' -- R

Yet another example of what not to do with a Marvel comic book character, Jonathan Hensleigh's "The Punisher" is more concerned with ill-conceived one-liners and gruesome deaths than originality or depth.

While it easily beats out The Rock's mindless "Walking Tall" and the thoroughly daft "Hellboy," that still isn't saying much.

Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is an FBI agent who on his "last job" managed to kill the son of major crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta). Taking revenge, the drug lord orders Frank's family killed, and his men ambush the Castle reunion in Puerto Rico, slaughtering every last attending member, including Frank's wife and child.

Miraculously surviving a point-blank bullet wound, Frank is nursed back to health by the kindly neighborhood witchdoctor (yes, witchdoctor, it's better if you don't ask) and swears retribution.

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Calling himself the Punisher and donning an oil-stained T-shirt with a skull in it's center (at least he manages to rustle up a better costume than his fellows-in-arms X-Men), Castle begins to terrorize the Saint family by stealing money, blowing up drugs and eventually manipulating Howard into killing his best friend and wife.

Along the way, Frank befriends the group of societal outcasts living in his apartment building, introducing the film's only comic elements.

Though tenant Sloan (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) poses a love interest, Castle pushes her aside (in one of the film's elusive realistic touches) in order to deliver the Saints a just punishment. The technical aspects of the film were varied, to put it politely.

While there was a distinct lack of refinement, the basics of the story and some of the acting were well done. The dialogue needed more work than anything, and the development of the main character paled in comparison with that of his dweebish-yet-endearing apartment neighbors.

Aside from this, though, the film is able to hold its own in the action genre, and those with a thirst for action this weekend will be more than satiated by this shoot-'em-up. Parents on the other hand should be made aware that this is nowhere near the tame "Spiderman" of 2001 and includes images of graphic violence (i.e. using a cutting board blade to dispatch one villain while burning another's face off with boiling water).

"The Punisher" is a fun, decently produced superhero movie, with plenty of explosions and exciting action sequences.

While it's clear that an effort was made to develop the characters and create an interesting background story, these attempts fall pretty flat. If Marvel wants to keep cashing in on its golden history of popular characters they would do wise to find some better screenwriters and go about employing actors.

After all, do they expect audiences to stand by while they proceed to defame classics such as the "Fantastic Four," "Iron Man" and "Captain America?" It's time for masters like Stan Lee to take over and for directors like Hensleigh to get punished.

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Two-and-a-half out of five stars.

Loren Thomas is a senior at Century High School. To respond to reviews in Sound &; Vision, call 252-1111, category TEEN (8336); write Teen Beat, Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903-6118 or send e-mail to teenbeat@postbulletin.com.

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