Trailing in the shadow of KICK-ASS comes a low-budget flick called DEFENDOR - the directorial debut of writer/actor Peter Stebbings - that got a limited release in the US and goes straight to DVD in much of Europe next Monday. Woody Harrelson stars as a sweet guy suffering from the delusion that he is a super-hero called Defendor, who can fight evil villains a jar of angry wasps and a baseball bat. Naturally, he gets the shit kicked out of him, but not before he is rescued by/rescues a crack-whore called Kat (Kat Dennings - NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST). Before the inevitable third-act redemption, Kat plays to Defendor's delusions by making him think that her ex-boss/pimp is his arch-enemy, and the rest of the movie shows how Arthur/Defendor tries to navigate real-life crime-busting. This is inter-cut with footage of him going through therapy with his psychiatrist, played by an amused by sympathetic Sandra Oh (GREY'S ANATOMY).
Overall, the movie is an interesting watch because Woody Harrelson commits to the role and brings a sort of goofy charm to it that he hasn't had on screen since back in the days of CHEERS. The supporting cast is generally strong - particularly Elias Koteas as undercover cop Chuck Dooney. And the tech credits are particularly impressive for a low-budget venture: props to DP David Greene. But there are problems with the flick. In front of the camera, I had a tough time buying into Kat Dennings portrayal of the hooker with a heart of gold. In every film she makes she carries herself and speaks like a wise-ass hipster. This is fine for a film like NICK AND NORAH but really jars in DEFENDOR. She just doesn't sound convincing as a girl who lives on the streets. The second problem is on the page - the script is too uneven in tone. Does Peter Stebbings want this to be a goofy comedy, poking gentle fun at Defendor? Or does he want this to be an emotional drama about too damaged and unlikely people finding a connection? Neither was committed to.
So, would I recommend DEFENDOR? Yes, it's good enough for DVD night and has an interesting approach to superhero movies. But for my money, if you really want to see a sensitive and beautifully acted examination of super-hero as delusion, check out SPECIAL.
Additional tags: Peter Stebbings, Clark Johnson, Lisa Ray, A C Peterson, Kristin Booth, Charlotte Sullivan, John Rowley, David Greene, Geoff Ashenhurst
DEFENDOR played Toronto and Whistler 2009 and went on limited released in the US and Brazil earlier this year. It is straight to DVD in the UK on September 9th.