Punisher: War Zone is, and I believe I am using this word correctly, gauche. It is a gauche movie. There are probably other adjectives that right-thinking people could all agree on to describe a film in which dozens and dozens of people are killed in methods that produce maximal amounts of flying blood and viscera, and expects the audience to be entertained and roused by this display. But gauche is the word I am choosing to stick with.

Here's the thing about this film: you, being a sensible person could walk up to me and say, "This Punisher: War Zone is a brutally violent movie that has no business getting an R-rating," and I would respond, "Yes, that's quite correct". And you could say, "Punisher: War Zone seems to exist only to supply scenes of carnage, death and dismemberment - I don't think the plot matters at all!" And I would reply, "I'm fairly certain that it doesn't." You could wind up by asserting, "Why, I happen to think that Punisher: War Zone is even an immoral movie! It presents a morally outrageous central character who is not asked to suffer in the slightest for the evil things he does - my God, he's even celebrated for them!" Which could only cause me to say one thing: "You are absolutely right about that."

Because all those things are precisely what Punisher: War Zone sets out to be, and those are exactly the things that the Punisher, a Marvel comic book hero in his third attempt at a franchise, has always been, and director Lexi Alexander never wanted to make the character anything else than those things. So to all the outraged critics who have successfully identified the Punisher as a supremely violent, immoral creature without any of the soothing introspection enjoyed by the similar comic book hero Batman, and who have discovered that Punisher stories are nasty, dark and vicious, I say congratulations! You can identify morally nihilistic gore when it stares you in the face. Now move on to the question of whether it's well-made morally nihilistic gore.

See, that's one of the things that always pisses me right the fuck off: if something is unapologetically violent, it is easy to write it off with that lovely catch-all, "Immoral!" and then you don't have to think of it any more. Never mind the fact that "immoral" is something that Punisher: War Zone simply is, in the way that other movies are musical, or romantic. It's a blindness that leads to tortured, 3,000-word essays about whether or not Triumph of the Will can be considered a great film despite it's Hitler-loving subject matter. Anyone with eyes can see that Triumph of the Will is a great film, and the more words we as a culture spill on questioning the morality of respecting a Nazi propaganda film, that is all the fewer words we have left for the much more important question of what it means for a Nazi propaganda film to be great cinema.

Punisher: War Zone is not a great film. It's not even a particularly good film. It is, however, a film that almost entirely succeeds at a tremendously modest aim, which is to provide a bit of mean-spirited entertainment for the moviegoing crowds like your humble blogger who tend to think that most of those dreary Oscarbait films could only be improved by the liberal application of machine guns and explosions. It is a fact undeniable that if the viewer comes to the film knowing that he or she does not care for tremendously violent action, that viewer is going to be fairly displeased by what happens. But we are not all that kind of viewer, and some of us even tend to think that it's possible to enjoy well-executed cinematic gore without necessarily turning into an emotionless psychopath.

If I were to sum up the narrative of the film, it would be something like this: Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) is the Punisher. He punishes. The credits roll. That's all you really need to know about the story. Oh, there's some crappy '80s-level cop story about a mobster (Dominic West, late of a truly extraordinary cop show, The Wire) and the widow (Julie Benz) of an FBI agent the Punisher kills accidentally, but this is all dross. Extraordinarily distracting dross, at that; well over half of the film is given over to this "plot" business, and frankly I'll take none of it. For that matter, Alexander doesn't seem very interested in it either: she directs all of the talky scenes with the enthusiasm of a direct-to-video filmmaker, leaving most of her energies for the big showstopping setpieces.

Those setpieces, which actually come at a fairly rapid clip, all things considered, are tremendously well-made. I'd hardly think to give them away - for they are, after all, the film's raison d'Γͺtre - but most of them are shocking, a couple of them are unexpectedly funny, and at least two of them assuredly count among the most violent things that you have ever seen in a movie theater. I can say this because I have almost certainly seen more violent movies than you have, and those two moments were among the most violent things that I have ever seen in a movie theater.

The problem is that violence is the film's only trick. The acting is across-the-board terrible, except for Stevenson and West, and Stevenson's performance consists pretty much solely of looking intensely threatening. Alexander, clearly, is only here for one reason, and when she's not finding exorbitantly bloody ways to dispatch expendable meat characters, she mostly checks out in favor of sheer hackery. Even as comic book movies go, there's not much here to latch on to after the film is over.

But the thing is, the next month is going to witness a typical December glut of very intellectual, cod-artsy prestige pictures, and it's nice to start things off with a palate-cleanser of tasteless mayhem and death. Sometimes you just need some brutality in your movies - okay, maybe not you personally, but "you" the concept of a moviegoer. For all it's overriding lack of ambition, Punisher: War Zone serves that entirely despicable function without a hint of shame.