Defendor ** ½
Directed By: Peter Stebbings.
Written By: Peter Stebbings.
Starring: Woody Harrelson (Arthur Poppington / Defendor), Kat Dennings (Kat), Elias Koteas (Chuck Dooney), Sandra Oh (Dr. Park), Michael Kelly (Paul Carter), Kristin Booth (Wendy Carter), Michael Cram (Blake), Dakota Goyo (Jack Carter).
If you are a regular movie goer, you have probably seen the preview for the upcoming movie Kick Ass, that opens with a guy dressed up like a super hero doing a swan dive off of a skyscraper, as the narrator informs us that the guy is not him, but some “with a history of mental problems”. Peter Stebbings Defendor is like a feature based on that guy.
Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson) lives in a city that is obviously based on Hamilton, although they never really name it (they do however say that the nickname of the city is Hammerville, and the local paper is The Spectator). Arthur is a little slow in the head, and has been arrested for assaulting someone. He tells his story to the court appointed psychologist (Sandra Oh). He explains how he is Defendor, a superhero who protects the city. Because he misunderstood what his grandfather told him as a child, he believes that his mother died because someone named Captain Industry, gave her drugs. Now, he is out to stop the drugs on the streets. Defendor is not much of a superhero – of course he has no powers, and more often than not, he is the one who ends up getting beat up.
On his rounds, Arthur meets Kat (Kat Dennings), a young prostitute and crack addict, who befriends him. At first, she simply uses him for a place to stay, and a source for money. But gradually, she warms to him. No man has ever been nice to her before, without wanting something in return – certainly not her father, and not Chuck Dooney (Elias Koteas) either, who is the dirty cop that Arthur meets on his rounds. Through Kat, he starts to discover a corrupt ring of cops, bikers and gangsters who are responsible for the drugs, and Defendor is determined to bring them down.
Woody Harrelson is coming off a great year in 2009, where he delivered three strong performances – he was the best thing about the bad 2012, and was wonderful in Zombieland and The Messenger (for which he received an Oscar nomination). He carries Defendor, and makes the movie, which is at times poorly written and obvious, extremely watchable, and almost enjoyable. I was surprised how much I came to care about his character by the end of the movie. Kat Dennings, Elias Koteas (who continues his streak of performances as utter sleazebags) and Sandra Oh are all fine in support, but this really is Harrelson’s show. He embraces this role that is really far out there, and grounds it in some sort of reality. He is the reason to see the movie.
The movie that surrounds Harrelson is merely okay. It is obvious that Stebbings is much more interested in his character than in telling any sort of real story, and so the beats the story hits are rather perfunctory. If he had put Defendor and Arthur Poppington into a story that deserved him, then this could have been an excellent little movie. He didn’t – but Defendor remains an interesting movie.