One grey morning, on a lonely city street, a mysterious stranger emerges from a parked van after a rough night’s sleep. He grabs a basket of clothes and heads toward a nearby laundromat. As he approaches his destination, a violent street gang suddenly appears on the scene. They immediately terrorize everyone in the street. The stranger turns a blind eye to the chaos, opting to do his laundry instead. The situation reaches a boiling point when the thugs accost a young boy on his way to school. Upon seeing this, the stranger finally decides to get involved. After doing so, his true identity is revealed by a single piece of clothing.
Over the past twenty three years, Hollywood has tried three times to successfully bring The Punisher to the big screen. Actor Thomas Jane starred in the second of these misguided adaptations, 2004’s The Punisher. While the movie itself was both tedious and silly, Jane gave a credible performance as Marvel’s vengeful loner. Since then, he’s developed an affinity for the character. That affection is evident in every frame of Dirty Laundry, a “fan film” released by Raw studios that manages to capture the very essence of the character. It also displays an amazing clarity of vision and sense of purpose.
The film is well aware of its title character’s legacy. It’s also aware of the huge debt the character owes to action movies, westerns, and exploitation films. In that sense, Dirty Laundry isn’t at all dissimilar to Jonathan Hensleigh’s 2004 adaptation of The Punisher. The scenario is right out of an old western, while the setting has more in common with the dystopian action pictures of the 1980’s. A dilapidated industrial district (presumably somewhere on the west coast) stands in for an old frontier town. Thomas Jane is the proverbial stranger who rides into town to set things right. When he stops by the liquor store, he might as well be sitting down at the bar of a saloon in the old west.
At first, The Punisher’s behavior seems woefully out of character. He’s curiously passive.
Thankfully, a line of dialogue during his conversation with a liquor store owner clears everything up. This little meeting occurs at about the half-way point. The wheelchair bound storeowner (Played wonderfully by Ron Perlman in a cameo role) is a living testament to the dangers of trying to be a hero. He’s a vision of what Frank could become, if he continues to sit out the “war.” His apathy helps to snap Frank out of his figurative coma. When Frank purchases a bottle of Jack Daniels from him, it’s symbolic. He’s fallen off the wagon, but not in the literal sense.
Thomas Jane’s prior association with the character telegraphs the surprise ending a bit, but it’s a great moment nonetheless. Dirty Laundry is a fearsome piece of exploitation filmmaking. It understands that, at his core, The Punisher has always been an angry guy with a gun (or in this case, a bottle of Jack Daniels). It remains faithful to that idea. It also remains relatively faithful to the Jonathan Hensleigh adaptation, even while surpassing it in almost every regard. Hensleigh merely toyed with the conventions of exploitation cinema, while Phil Joanou embraces them with open arms.