Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Defendor (2009) - Five-Dollar Hero

 On the Menu: DEFENDOR (2009)

Ingredients: Woody Harrelson, Kat Dennings, Elias Koteas, Sandra Oh, Michael Kelly, Alan C. Peterson, Lyriq Bent and Clark Johnson. Directed by Peter Stebbings. Run time: 101 minutes. Rated: R.

At First Bite: On Groundhog Day 2010, I saw the trailer for DEFENDOR back when I first popped my ZOMBIELAND DVD into my PS2. I made a note to search out the movie once it hit store shelves. Two months later, I added it to my collection solely on the fact it stars Harrelson and Dennings.

By day, Arthur Poppington (Harrelson) is a shy flagman with a below-average IQ.


By night, he's Defendor, a self-made superhero with no powers, lots of courage and a below-average IQ.

His mortal enemy is Captain Industry, but doesn't know where to find him. Until then, he battles punks in the street on a nightly basis armed with a trench club, a handful of marbles and jars of wasps. Needless to say, he gets beat up quite often.

Arthur befriends a crack-smoking prostitute, Katerina (Dennings), who claims she was once Captain Industry's favorite girl. She's muddy on directions, but points Defendor to his foe.

The local police have been staking out the same villain, and Defendor is starting to get in the way of the sting operation. He's also attracted the ire of a bad cop, Dooney (Koteas).

Will Defendor save the day or will Arthur get himself killed?

Tough to Swallow: When we first see the wasps in Arthur's hideout, there is a box of flares next to the aquarium. A sticker on the box reads "DANGER FLAMABLE FLARES." Flammable is misspelled.

Such as fuss is made about Arthur getting agitated when people mispronounce "Defendor" as "Defender," but when Kat asks Arthur why he dresses up as a superhero, he says, "...when I'm Defender, I'm not Arthur anymore. I'm a million times better than Arthur."

In the last scene, there are newspaper clippings on Kat's wall. It's really only noticeable if you pause the DVD, but the second column of the Kristic story is a copy & paste version of the first column.

Not that it's terribly important, but I think the theatrical trailer should have been included on the DVD.

The synopsis on the back of the DVD case says Arthur "falls for a local prostitute." Obviously, the people who wrote that didn't watch the movie.

Second Helping: I watched the movie again with the audio commentary. The commentary is interesting, funny and sometimes politically incorrect.

Something to Chew On: DEFENDOR was filmed in Ontario, Canada.

The film had a limited 4-theater release and grossed only $37,606.

This is Stebbings's directorial and screenwriting debut. He wrote the first draft in 2005.

Stebbings also has a cameo as a doctor.

Ellen Page was attached to the film in 2007, but pulled out. She had described the script as "incredible" and  and "awesome" in an interview on ComingSoon.net. She is cast in a similar film entitled SUPER with Rainn Wilson, which should hit theaters in Fall/Winter 2010.

James Preston Rogers, who plays baddie Biker Bob, was a WWE wrestler named Big Deel. He apparently turned down a large contract to pursue acting. There was a campaign to have him cast as the lead in the upcoming Marvel flick THOR. Rogers didn't get the part. On a related note, Kat Dennings will appear in THOR.

The film currently has a 7.2 user rating on IMDb.com (8,820 votes).

Sides: There is audio commentary from Stebbings, Harrelson, Dennings and producer Nicholas Tabarrok. 

The DVD also includes 5 featurettes: "Origin Stories: The Genesis of Defendor (10:15)," "Removing the Costume: Behind the Screenplay (11:30)," "Heroes and Villains: Meet the Players (20:11)," "An Actor's Director: Working with Peter Stebbings (4:57)" and "Famous Last Words: Wrapping Defendor (10:39)."

There's also a blooper reel, 5 deleted scenes (three of which include the reporter character played by Lisa Ray) and 7 other movie/TV trailers.

Aftertaste: When I saw the trailer, I immediately thought of SPECIAL and MYSTERY MEN. Surely, this was going to be a quirky comedy full of laughs.

Not so fast.

This is a drama. More precisely, this is a tragedy with some laughs sprinkled around. I mean, here is a story of a man-child thinking bullets don't hurt him when he's wearing his hero costume. The movie generously diagnoses Arthur as having ADD and being "socially immature." He finds himself in dangerous situations, but he isn't smart enough to understand the gravity of those situations.

He's a dim bulb, but he hasn't lost his marbles. He has an infinite supply.

I'd say Defendor falls somewhere between Handi-man and Blankman in the superhero hierarchy, but the movie clearly isn't an offensive superhero parody (although I'd love for the Wayans brothers to make a Handi-man movie). It has heart, and teaches us that regular people can do extraordinary things.

Dennings is involved in most of the dramatic scenes, and she steals them. Koteas plays a great creep and corrupt cop, and has some comic moments with Harrelson.

Harrelson owns the role of Arthur/Defendor. He perfectly displays the powerlessness and childlike wonder of Arthur, yet still exudes the right amount of courage and confidence as Defendor. He's a hero the city loves and appreciates when he could just as easily be ridiculed.

On a side note, the end credits sequence is pretty cool.

THE MESSENGER. DEFENDOR. ZOMBIELAND. 2012. One thing's for sure, 2009 was the year of Woody...

Even more proof that ordinary can be remarkable.

Rating:

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