Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Defendor" (2005) - Movie Review

The attraction of nerds towards comic book and super heroes is direct correlation of how the fantasy world is a playground for being in control and do unrealistic actions. Like any other escapism, superheroes provide that realm and in “Kick-Ass” it came close for an ordinary person to suit up for misguided heroism with comic book splash on screen. “Defendor” was released half a decade before Matthew Vaughn’s film with rightly cast Woody Harrelson as the titular character.

Director Peter Stebbings said that none of the studios did not want to touch it while the actors and agents were all after it. Understandably so because the idea on paper would have been such a gold mine for an actor to sink deep and get concrete performance out of the troubled character of Arthur Poppington and his superhero Defendor. Arthur has problems, obviously. He had a bad childhood with a mother (Charlotte Sullivan) leaving him to his grandfather to take care. The film begins when Arthur as Defendor crosses paths with an undercover dirty cop Dooney (Elias Koteas) as he is ill treating a hooker Angel (Kat Dennings).

Arthur recites his story during a psychological evaluation to Dr. Parks (Sandra Oh). While he should have been apprehended for several times (most of them him ending up beaten to pulp), he is there for assaulting a nobody guy owning a dry cleaners. If you have half the sense of movie formula, this part is easily solvable. “Defendor” is driven to find the non-existent Captain Industry which he might have picked up from several of the non-popular comic books he shelters in the basement of the construction facility he works. He has great friends because Arthur is a good guy in heart. He is sweet to most of the people and one such is Paul Carter (Michael Kelly). Paul goes above and beyond in helping Arthur and the explanation we get at the end for his actions comes off haphazard and contrived.

“Defendor” exists in a half baked comic land. It has the cops, criminals and people who are real with problems that carries deadly consequences while the script treats it like a comic book without the elements of it. Stebbings attempts to draw parallel to the world we live in by plugging the comic book scenario of good versus evil. The evil empire of course exists and “Defendor” uses it while struggling to come in terms with the characters. What was Arthur doing before he met Angel? He is forty something adult and if he has been dealing with this vigilante character for all his life how come he managed to escape notice till now? Or if this is a recent trigger, why now?

Woody Harrelson is a capable and the right actor to provide the variations Arthur needs going from a naive and shy construction worker to a naive and more confidently sounding Defendor. The comedy in this story which is supposed to be dark ends as early as Defendor is caught by the cops at the start. Beyond that it is neither a sad and moving tale of a mentally affected man nor a full on mash up of superhero in real life. “Kick-Ass” took it to another level splashing blood and guts making it a R-rated comic book film which it was supposed to be. This earlier attempt on that suffers from identifying itself on where it wants to be.

Kat Dennings comes off as the damsel in distress while milking money for drugs from Arthur. Their relationship that develops into something meaningful are summated with nice background score and montage sequence. There in itself is the inability to create a relationship to convince us. Dennings beyond her efforts to present a character never convinces me as the druggie hooker. Here it is perfect on the work she puts out in Angel or Kat but there is an underlying problem in the way she carries herself that quite does not nail the character for me. Nevertheless she does her role dutifully.

Peter Stebbings film is neither terribly boring nor effortlessly dull but uneventful. The plot with a real drug lord Radovan Kristic (Alan C. Peterson) comes off more as an unnecessary distraction than an aid to the story. Harrelson’s presence with good supporting cast stumbles comfortably into predictable plot lines with an end to suck tears out of dry eyes. “Defendor” is absolutely a great material on paper or when you summate it with the premise and it does not fail but it does not succeed as well. It simply exists unresolved.

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