Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day 54: Defendor (2009)

R, 1 hr. 35 min. Directed by: Peter Stebbings. Release Date: September 1, 2009. DVD Release Date: April 13, 2010.

I wanted to like this rogue super hero movie with my favorite goofy human being ever in it. I really did. It has a lot of the same themes that have made Batman such a major superhero franchise in so many media formats: vigilantism, restrained (for the most part) violence, fighting for the little guy, technology, even a sweet ride. But after those stretches of my logic, there wasn't a whole lot I loved about Defendor.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Woody Harrelson is pretty awesome in this role. Without doing anything that might cause a spoiler problem, he plays a man who is either pathologically insane or who has some sort of mental handicap that prevents him from making anything like what most of us would call a normal, rational decision. Really, this was probably just a slowed-down version of his "Woody Boyd" persona from Cheers.
He's high functioning enough to do things like drive a car with more skill than I usually see of drivers in Ohio (or Texas), but he's still lost enough in his own fantasies and delusions that he's decided that it's his job to create a superhero capable of defeating the local organized crime boss. This is a man who lives on his own, for what appears to be pride's sake, which I can empathize with. We see a brother check on Woody a few times and there are scenes with a court-ordered psychologist in the form of Sandra Oh. There's little other supervision and everyone seems surprised when this guy starts frequenting and befriending (in a perfecting platonic way)…well, hookers. One hooker in particular seems a better grounding force for him than all the other people in his life.

How does crap like this even happen? Like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, this is a condemnation of how we treat the mentally ill and or handicapped population of our country, but it's much more sideways, and I had to think about it a bit before I saw the pokes. I would have liked this better if Defendor, the alter-ego, had been more successful in his aims. I would have been happier if we'd seen him succeed, rather than watching this man persevere in spite of what was actually happening to him while in costume. Most of his crime fighting scenes inspired feelings that were akin to those that arose when I watched the often-cited Pursuit of Happyness. At some point, every person should be able to have a day go by without deity, fate, or chance kicking them in the teeth. When the person is trying so desperately to do good, I feel like that quota should be higher. I shouldn't come out of any super hero flick, ever, feeling bad for the good guy. I did here.

In many ways this misrepresented. It's billed as an action comedy, but I think it was weak in both elements.

Defendor sports a decent cast, rounding out Harrelson and Oh with Kat Demmings lately of The House Bunny, which I seriously need to watch again, and Elias Koteas, who is a phenomenal character actor. None of them really reached their potential in these roles, and it was kind of a problem. If you want to hybridize Batman, Kick-Ass, and Forrest Gump, people are really going to have to be on their game. Without that, you get what feels like a C-grade indie movie that doesn't really make all that much sense in the grander scheme of things.