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Defendor DVD Review

Defendor movie poster Defendor

Theatrical Release: February 19, 2010 / Running Time: 101 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Peter Stebbings

Cast: Woody Harrelson (Arthur Poppington/Defendor), Elias Koteas (Sergeant Chuck Dooney), Michael Kelly (Paul Carter), Sandra Oh (Dr. Ellen Park), Kat Dennings (Katerina "Angel" Debrofkowitz), Clark Johnson (Captain Roger Fairbanks), Lisa Ray (Dominique Ball), A.C. Peterson (Radovan Kristic), Kristen Booth (Wendy Carter), Charlotte Sullivan (Fay Poppington), Tony Nappo (Biker Cliff), Ron White (Judge Wilson), David Gardner (Grandpa Henry), Bryan Renfro (Mr. Debrofkowitz), Matt Dreesen (Young Arthur)

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Woody Harrelson had a pretty stellar 2009. He was the top-billed star of Zombieland, a clear off-season hit and one of the year's best films ("comedy" modifier not needed). Then, he picked up a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for the acclaimed independent war drama The Messenger. Neither of those accomplishments was enough, however, to secure wide distribution for Defendor, a film he made in between the other two.

After playing at a couple of Canadian film festivals last fall, Defendor came to just three North American theaters (four in its second week) for fourteen days of quiet exhibition this past February. Now, just before Kick-Ass opened beneath expectations, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment issued this other R-rated superhero comedy on DVD, where it could easily be mistaken for a direct-to-video release.

Ungifted self-made superhero Defendor (Woody Harrelson), a.k.a. Arthur Poppington, is pleased with his sling shot practice. Creepy undercover cop Chuck Dooney (Elias Koteas) falls victim to the first line of Defendor weaponry: marbles.

Harrelson stars as Arthur Poppington, a mentally-challenged man. By day, Arthur has a job with the public works department. At night, despite having no superpowers of any kind, he becomes "Defendor" (sic), a superhero protecting the precipitative Hammertown. Defendor's costume consists of a black turtleneck with a silver "D" made out of duct tape strips. He applies shoe polish all around his eyes and his flashlight-equipped helmet is also set up to document his every action on VHS tapes.
When possible, Defendor speaks in puns. His arsenal includes a World War I trench club and even less traditional weapons, like marbles for throwing and a squeeze bottle filled with lime juice. His vehicle is a hardly modified bucket truck he's nicknamed "Defendog."

Defendor's usual street monitoring introduces him to an undercover police officer and a young prostitute. The former, Chuck Dooney (Elias Koteas), has been running with a group of bad bikers whose evil airs seem to be rubbing off on him. The latter, street name "Angel" and real name Kat Debrofkowitz (Kat Dennings, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist), is negatively impacted by Defendor's intervention. She takes her crack pipe and attitude and temporarily moves into the workshop where Arthur has secretly been crashing.

We're occasionally reminded that the majority of the film is being relayed by a jumpsuited Arthur to a shrink (Sandra Oh, "Grey's Anatomy") in a psychiatric evaluation. The polite doc open-mindedly listens to the childlike Arthur's side of the story, as he shares his motivations and methods. Arthur's general call to vigilantism narrows in on an unknown Captain Industry, who Arthur charges with the death of his drug-addicted mother in his formative years.

Acting on tips from the increasingly sympathetic Kat, Defendor seems to keep running into Dooney and, using his wits and unconventional weapons, narrowly escaping death. A criminal figure Dooney is in contact with becomes Defendor's top suspect in his "Captain Industry" search.

Crack-smoking young prostitute Katerina Debrofkowitz (Kat Dennings) rubs her fingers together, a gesture loosely translated as "Show me the money." Arthur (Woody Harrelson) would be much less tired and bruised at his day job if Hammertown's criminals only needed a stop sign like construction zone drivers. Though he looks confrontational here, Arthur's foreman (Michael Kelly) is his one friend.

Defendor marks the directorial debut for Peter Stebbings, a seasoned Canadian TV actor who first ventured behind the camera as writer and producer of Jack and Jill vs. the World. Stebbings also wrote this interesting film, which, though funny from time to time, is not concerned with providing regular laughs. Light on satire and silliness, it treats its story and characters seriously. That explains the minimalist theatrical release reflecting limited perceived commercial prospects.
But the movie has its head and heart in the right places and reveals just how much room there is to compellingly explore the superhero genre in an original way. Defendor's real-world setting and complete lack of the fantastic may be off-putting to those craving ordinary good vs. evil hijinks. Those expecting them but open to something different should find this rewarding and refreshing, if also a little bit dreary.

The film doesn't dare to make light of mental illness, nor does it purport to seriously comment upon it. Harrelson takes an appealing approach to his oft-overmatched but rather able protagonist, rendering him an innocent simpleton with convictions not all that different from Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle. The cast around him also provide the film what it needs, with Koteas' treacherous cop and Oh's sounding board suiting their talents and Defendor's targets especially well.

One hopes that this movie can get noticed on DVD, although despite the high-profile cast, it appears to have a long uphill battle to obtaining cult status. From the looks of it, not even the DVD producers have seen the film; the cover art places Michael Kelly's assistive supporting character on the front in a place and style clearly meant for Koteas' more prominent slimeball.

Buy Defendor on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English, Spanish, Portuguese
Release Date: April 13, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $24.96
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

The DVD reveals that, although made on a $3.5 million budget, Defendor has been given a nice superhero movie look and score. Some minor grain is hardly noticeable in the highly pleasing 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is aptly immersive throughout.

Indian-Canadian model-turned-actress Lisa Ray's special credit becomes a little easier to understand after her reporter character Dominique Ball appears in three deleted scenes. Playing Arthur's court-appointed psychiatrist, Sandra Oh cracks up in the Defendor outtakes reel. Canadian actor Peter Stebbings regularly addresses the camera to discuss his first experience as writer/director in the DVD's five making-of featurettes.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Whether because of or despite its unceremonious acquisition, Defendor comes to DVD with a slew of bonus features, sadly none of which are enhanced for 16:9 televisions.

First up is an audio commentary by writer/director Peter Stebbings, producer Nicholas Tabarrok, and stars Woody Harrelson and Kat Dennings. Theirs is a relaxed but engaging screen-specific discussion. Among the highlights are Dennings recalling her cautious crack pipe instruction, Harrelson remembering his foul moods, and all debating the appropriateness of the word "retard."
While keeping the mood light (and amusingly trying to refrain from "promoting" other movies), the group does touch upon the film's challenges, from an unusually fast production to a blurred comedy/tragedy classification that scared off potential distributors (and the Sundance Film Festival). While not ignoring the disappointment of limited release, these four remain proud, insightful, and extremely easy to listen to.

Five deleted scenes (7:20) show us more of Arthur at work, Arthur and Kat at their shared home, and three additional exchanges with briefly featured reporter Dominique Ball (played by Lisa Ray).

An outtakes reel (2:20) features clapperboard claps, actors getting the giggles, and Harrelson's struggle to saw through his arm cast.

Finally, we get five featurettes running just under an hour (56:31). With interviews culled from the same sources and no overlap, the pieces can be appreciated as one long documentary with "Play All", in spite of flow-breaking end credits separating them from one another. Viewed in succession, they largely move us chronologically through the challengingly brisk 20-day shoot. The chief components are candid on-set footage tailing the director and interviews with the four commentators and other leading actors.

"Origin Stories: The Genesis of Defendor" (10:14) explains Stebbings' visions for the film and his process to get it made with him as director. "Removing the Costume: Behind the Screenplay" (11:28) touches upon the gamut the film runs, defying expectations in a variety of genres. Actors describe their attraction to the project and we also hear what the shooting location of Hamilton, Canada offered the production in terms of authentic grime and crime.

"Heroes and Villains: Meet the Players" (20:10) discusses each leading cast member and past performances that made the filmmakers think of them for the roles. The actors talk about their parts, their co-stars, and the cast poker games. "An Actor's Director: Working with Peter Stebbings" (4:55) allows the actors to briefly sing the praises of the first-time director, of whom we get a few glimpses at work. "Famous Last Words: Wrapping Defendor" (9:35) shows us a bit of post-production activity, like Stebbings and Tabarrok toiling over the film's climactic call-in radio audio. Among the cast and crew expressions of their hopes for the film, Harrelson makes a lame, flimsy analogy to American current events.

The disc opens with trailers for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Road, and Chloe. The same three spots are joined on the Previews menu by ads for Legion, "Rescue Me": Season Five, Transylmania, and Zombieland.

The static, silent menus are pretty standard, but earn points for using duct tape headings and Defendor's imperfect "D" as their cursor.

Defendor (Woody Harrelson) proudly holds one of the most potent items in his arsenal: a jar of wasps ready to swarm.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It's never fun to see a movie intended for wide release have to settle for much less. But it's especially troubling when the movie has merit that the appearance of being unceremoniously dumped on DVD would never suggest. This is true of Defendor, an intriguing caper about a self-made superhero that avoids routine beats and plays by its own rules. The film is well worth a look and between a standout audio commentary, over one hour of video bonuses, and the replay value of the feature, a purchase might well be in order.

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Reviewed April 20, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2010 Darius Films, Buck Productions, Alliance Films, Insight Film Releasing, Joker Films, Telefilm Canada, Astral Media,
The Harold Greenberg Fund, Ontario Media Development Corporation, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.