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‘Punisher’ main man Jane

'Dreamcatcher' thesp takes on role as vigilante

Thomas Jane has signed on to star in “The Punisher,” the live-action adaptation of the Marvel Comics character that Jonathan Hensleigh scripted and will direct.

Production begins July for a summer 2004 release. Jane arrives just in time to shoot a teaser trailer that will precede Marvel film “The Hulk.”

Jane has long been the lead candidate to play FBI undercover agent Frank Castle, who sheds his world of danger for a cushy desk job only to see his wife and son executed as the result of his last undercover assignment. Blinded by vengeance, Castle becomes unstoppable in his efforts to punish the murderers and finds redemption in the process.

“The movie is a throwback to the great righteous revenge movies of the 1970s like ‘Walking Tall’ and ‘Dirty Harry,’ ” said Artisan Pictures production prexy Richard Saperstein. “Tom is a real actor who gives weight to what will be a gritty R-rated film. This is not some special effects movie with a guy running around in spandex.”

“The Punisher” will be produced by Marvel Studios CEO Avi Arad and Gale Anne Hurd. It’s the second pic to emerge from an ongoing joint venture between Artisan and Marvel that began with the character Iron Fist.

Jane previously starred in “Dreamcatcher,” played Mickey Mantle in “61*” and first gained notice in “Boogie Nights.”

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