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Defendor (2009)

by on 2011/07/25

“There’s no right or wrong here.”

* * *

In Defendor, the title character, played by Woody Harrelson, is emphatic on the spelling of his alter ego’s name. It must end in “-or”. His insistence tempts me to sum up the movie with a dismissive bit of wordplay:

  • Disappointor
  • Don’t bothor
  • Say no mor

In truth, however tempting, to do so would be unkind and unfair. This effort, like its hero, has its heart in the right place, whatever else about it you could say.

By day, he’s Arthur Poppington, a Public Works Department employee in Hamilton, Ontario. By night he’s a D.I.Y. masked vigilante. The quest to find his nemesis, Captain Industry, exposes him to “Hammer Town’s” underworld. Foes include corrupt officer Chuck Dooney (Exotica’s Elias Koteas) and smuggler Radovan Kristic (A.C. Peterson). His greatest opposition, however, may come from his 80 I.Q.

Another, snider review could reference the audience’s I.Q., for I found the narrative stretching my most indulgent version of credulity.

Hammered home like a poor joke, Defendor confronts a group of criminals, beats them or is himself beat up, then repeats it all again shortly thereafter. Over and over and over again, with almost no sense of progression. Even the higher level thugs prove as inept as the protagonist. Although we’re meant to root for him, the cold facts make it very hard to do.

It’s a matter of intent and execution. Picture and player alike share much of the first, but not enough of the latter. Similar to — but nearly an inversion of — Hobo with a Shotgun, it features a lone crusader with scant support and a difficult path to tread. But where Hobo was morally cloudy, compensating with pyrotechnics, Defendor lacks the energy to fuel its purer aspirations.

To be clear, this piece is slow, despite appearing an action flick. When adventures lack adrenaline, they might compensate with suspense. Ironically, where compelling intensity is concerned, even a film like Away from Her bests this one.

Slow, repetitive, and overlong, I struggled to find the up sides. The cast is superb, including Kat Dennings (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), Michael Kelly (2004’s Dawn of the Dead), and Sandra Oh (Last Night). Poppington’s backstory and motivations are reasonably strong. Other cool touches pop up on occasion, especially Defendor’s arsenal: lime juice, marbles, nutcrackers, slingshots, and jars of angry wasps. Unfortunately, the sum of these elements overall never really gels.

It’s a shame, for it’s not a bad experience per se, and I believe it’s well intentioned. I’d heard it was misleadingly promoted as a superhero comedy, something it decidedly is not. So I opened my mind and braced myself for anything unexpected, and yet I emerged feeling slightly less than impressed.

In attempting action, comedy, and drama, it succeeds in doing none of them well. Defendor is merely mediocre. It isn’t good, it isn’t bad, it just is.

  • No less no mor

Ah, never mind.

* * *

Rated 14A

101 minutes

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