Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kat Dunnings, Elias Koteas
Writer/Director: Peter Stebbings
Released: Darius Films (2009)
Genre: Dark Comedy
Woody Harrelson can usually make the worst movies watchable. The Cowboy Way would be insufferable if Keifer Sutherland was left to play off of a lesser actor. That boxing movie he did with Antonio Banderas, which I have conventiently forgotten the name of, was tolerable thanks to Harrelson. Defendor barely gets a passing grade in my books due in large part to his performance.
Harrelson plays Arthur Popington, a guy who is apparently developmentally challenged in some regard--a detail glossed over by the film--and skulks the city streets at night in disguise as his alter-ego Defendor. Defendor fights crime using his wits (what little he has) and an odd array of non-lethal weapons, including marbles, a slingshot, and wasps. Where the movie Kick-Ass tackles the idea of regular people parading around as superheroes in a comedic fashion, Defendor takes a much darker approach that incites laughter for the wrong reasons.
The director apparently got the idea for this film when he became curious about the lives of homeless people. How he took the ordeals and the plights of the homeless and indigent, and wound up with a film that borders on mocking them, I am mystified. Arthur clearly has psychological issues stemming back from his childhood and mother's death, but there is no real delving into that beyond a flashback. The focus of the film is on Arthur's delusion that he can really be a superhero, and not even a three-on-one beatdown by the cronies of a crooked undercover cop (Elias Koteas) will deter him.
Arthur is portrayed as a buffoon through the whole movie, as near as I can tell, with interventions by his sympathetic boss (Michael Kelly) to help Arthur abandon his unhealthy obsession with crime-fighting shown as the only sincere effort to turn Arthur's life around. The hooker (Kat Dunnings) he saves--sort of--starts out as a betrayer of Arthur's trust, but eventually befriends him after taking pity on him for not knowing any better, but at no point does she really provide any real help. In fact, it's through her enabling behavior that Arthur puts his life in even greater danger when he takes it upon himself to take down the crime boss to whom she serves as well as her abusive father.
If this movie is meant to provide any kind of understanding towards the homeless, as was the initial goal, it fails miserably. This is a depressing and disappointing attempt at comedy by depicting a mentally challenged man as a laughing stock--a comedic foil--for the sake of garnering mean-spirited laughs. Oh, yes, Defendor does manage to take some measure of justice against the criminals in this movie, but at a cost that does little to validate the reverence shown to him at the end of the movie. Arthur Popington needed some serious help from the people in his life, and not even his court-appointed psychologist (Sandra Oh) does anything to stop him from pursuing his delusions.
Any higher meaning this movie was meant to provide was lost on me entirely. Woody Harrelson did a good job playing Arthur by not playing him for laughs, but offering a very sincere performance of a man with a troubled mind. Every other aspect of the film, however, came off as rather repellent with its point-and-laugh approach, and I nearly quit watching halfway through. Where I thought I was going to see a film that took a more serious and introspective look than Kick-Ass at costumed vigilantes, I wound up watching a lampooning of the mentally challenged meant to provoke me in laughing at Defendor rather than laugh with him.
I say avoid this movie, but if you saw it and liked it--and think I'm all wrong on this one--feel free to leave a comment to help me better understand. The Don Quixote of our times? I don't think so.