RATING |

Punisher: War Zone

wastes no time in getting down to its nasty business.

The opening credits have barely stopped rolling when our title character, a vicious vigilante, bursts into a mansion straight out of a bad

Godfather

fantasy and wastes every gangster and button man in this

casa nostra

.

They're human garbage and the Punisher (Ray Stevenson, Titus in HBO's

Rome

) is here to take out the trash. Oops, sorry. This film gets you thinking in hardboiled cliches.

But our lethal hero is just warming up. He kills so many people so quickly, you begin to worry that the film is only going to last 10 minutes. Even if there were an infinite number of bad guys in what is supposed to be New York City, they would be an endangered species before the Punisher even broke a sweat.

The previous adaptation of this comic book series, starring Thomas Jane, was a restrained, relatively realistic exercise. It was a near cousin of Charles Bronson's

Death Wish

franchise.

In this sequel, violence is its own reward. The carnage is so graphic and relentless, the film has all the charm of a pit bull fight.

The plot is rather superfluous, but let's give it a go, shall we?

Frank Castle is an average guy, a former seminarian and Marine. When his J.Crew family is senselessly slaughtered, he becomes the Punisher, a killing machine chewing up the criminals the legal system is too pusillanimous or too corrupt to bring to justice.

He storms around the city, dressed all in black, looking like a furious Steven Seagal. His arms dealer, a gig as lucrative as being Tammy Faye Bakker's makeup supplier, is played by Wayne Knight (Seinfeld's nemesis, Newman).

For the Punisher, the one that got away is Jigsaw (Dominic West of

The Wire

), a crime boss with so many raised stitches on his face, he looks like a baseball. His mug is so grotesque that a cold-blooded killer projectile vomits upon first seeing him.

Then the Punisher accidentally mows down an undercover FBI agent. Can you blame him? Expecting the Punisher to slow down long enough to consider whom he is slaying is like asking a speed reader to savor a period.

He is so filled with regret over his slipup that he actually considers laying down his scythe. However, he is being chased around by the dead man's vengeful partner (Colin Salmon) and Jigsaw's lunatic brother (Doug Hutchinson), who cackles like Woody Woodpecker as he reduces the world to rubble.

Punisher: War Zone

is so intent on its no-mercy killings that it misses some obvious implausibilities. Everyone in the film drives around in Range Rovers, even the cops. A New York gangster talks with a heavy Boston accent. And a dreadlocked henchman seemingly can't decide if he's Jamaican or Irish.

The acting is better than the script deserves and Lexi Alexander's cut-to-the-hearse direction lends the film considerable kick. But there is a steel spike at the end of Punisher's boot that will gouge your eyes out.

Punisher: War Zone *1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Lexi Alexander. With Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Doug Hutchinson and Colin Salmon. Distributed by Lionsgate.

Running time:

1 hour, 47 mins.

Parent's guide:

R (excessive violence, profanity, drugs)

Playing at:

area theaters

Contact staff writer David Hiltbrand at dhiltbrand@ phillynews.com or 215-854-4552. Read his recent work at http://

go.philly.com/daveondemand.