Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Cast: Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Joan), Thomas Jane (Frank Castle/The Punisher), John Travolta (Howard Saint)

The omens aren’t good. The budget was a paltry 30 million bucks; the only star is Travolta at a stage in his career when he’d appear in any old toot; and director Hensleigh previously scripted the universally-derided Saint movie. The final result, though, can happily be filed under “better than it has any right to be”.

Jane plays Frank Castle, an undercover cop. During a sting in which Castle is involved, one of crime boss Howard Saint’s sons is killed. Saint (Travolta) is not happy, and nor is his wife, who shows all the humanity of Lady Macbeth. The result is that Castle’s family is slaughtered, before he is shot in the chest from close range and then blown up.
Somehow, miraculously, he survives. And if you thought Saint was miffed before, wait ’til you see Castle as a revenge-fuelled vigilante.

Okay, so it’s a pretty formulaic revenge flick. In the ’80s, it would have been Stallone or Arnie, maybe Bruce (or, God help us, Dolph!). And it would have been piss-poor. But this delivers, albeit in a cheap and cheerful fashion. Maybe it’s the influences – Mad Max and Sergio Leone – that turn it into an urban Western, and an enjoyable one at that. There’s much more humour than expected, and although it boasts an 18 certificate, it’s not awash with gratuitous gun-porn and blood. There’s even something sweet about the fact that Castle looks like he’s just wearing a skanky old Punisher t-shirt he bought at the local Walmart a few years back.

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