In “Defendor” Woody Harrelson plays a man whose rich inner life spills out into his real life. By day he is dead-end-job-Arthur but by night he is Defendor, a masked superhero do-gooder. His task? To clean up the streets of Hamilton, Ontario. It sounds like the kind of thing we’ve seen before but Canadian actor turned director Peter Stebbings puts a unique spin on Arthur’s story.
Speaking in comic book clichés—“Look out termites,” he says, “it’s squishin’ time!”—and with a duct tape “D” on his chest Defendor and his homemade arsenal of weapons patrols the streets looking for crime to prevent. He’s a bit delusional, but his heart is in the right place.
“Who writes your dialogue?” asks a bad guy, “Spiderman?”
“No, I do it myself,” he answers innocently, before opening a can of whoop-ass on the guy.
His goal is to infiltrate the lair of Captain Industry, the crime king-pin Defendor believes to be responsible for all of Hamilton’s civic woes. On his journey he befriends a drug addict with a heart of gold and battles a corrupt cop (Elias Koteas).
Gritty and very funny, this is a hard one to categorize. It’s not exactly a comedy, nor is it a crime drama. It’s somewhere in between. I’m not sure if that indefinable quality will make this a harder sell at the box office or not—people like to pigeonhole their movies—but for those willing to be go along for the ride the movie is an enjoyably genre busting good time.
On paper Woody Harrelson’s role looks unpromising. He’s the disillusioned man with mental health issues who sinks into a fantasy world to help him deal with the pain of a troubled past. We’ve seen this before, but Harrelson’s mix of sincerity and pathos in his reading of the character breathes life into a role that could easily have fallen into cliché. He’s aided by a script—written by the film’s director Peter Stebbings—that gives him room to firmly establish the character, both as a superhero who believes guns are for cowards and as a real person who is tormented by his mother’s descent into a world of prostitution and drug abuse. It’s a solid performance that provides an anchor for the entire movie.
Also very strong is Kat Dennings, best know for her turn as a 13-year-old girl who hires Samantha to handle publicity for her bat mitzvah on an episode of “Sex and the City” and “The House Bunny.” Here she is the drug addicted hooker who doesn’t exactly have the proverbial heart-of-gold, but does discover the goodness in herself.
Like its main character “Defendor” is a bit delusional—it’s a low budget superhero flick going up against the Spidermans and Iron Men of the world—but like its main character I like its spunk.