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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Defendor

April 21st, 2010

Defendor - Buy from DVD or Buy from Blu-ray

Defendor is a movie that was never going to be a massive hit, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's a Canadian film. It's also a low budget film, costing jut $4 million to make (although I suppose it's redundant to call it low budget and Canadian). Finally, it's by first-time writer / director Peter Stebbings, who is better know for his acting. The fact that it earned a theatrical release down South, albeit a small one, is a bit of a miracle. The fact that it wasn't able to find a theatrical audience is not. Is this a hidden gem? Or should the film be happy with whatever audience it can find?

The film starts with Woody Harrelson as Arthur Poppington, sitting in the office of his court appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Park. It's her job to figure out whether or not Arthur Poppington is sane, or at least sane enough to be released into society. At first he's less than forthcoming, but when he learns their meeting will be top secret, he opens up and explains to her his origins and how he came to commit the crime that he is charged with.

Flashing back, we see him dressed up in his full Defendor outfit, watching the streets looking for crime to fight. He spots it when he sees a cop, Chuck Dooney, who is in the process of procuring the services of a crack smoking prostitute, Kat. He's looking for a man called Captain Industry and when Chuck claims he doesn't know who that is, he takes quite a beating. Shortly afterward, Arthur is picked up for that assault. However, no charges are pressed and he's free to go. The next time the men tussle, Chuck has some friends and Author is the one beaten. But fortunately for him, after the assault is over Kat helps him back to his "secret lair". At first she just sees him as a chump she can take advantage of; someone from who she can scam some quick cash while using his place to crash. As she learns more about him and he learns more about her, they become friends. But while he values her friendship, it is his mission in life to take down Captain Industry, no matter what the cost.

I can see why this movie was difficult to sell and there's almost no chance it could have survived in multiplexes. I've seen it described as a comedy, but it's not. It's not even a black comedy. Granted, there are some very funny scenes, like when Defendor first tortures Chuck Dooney for information, he uses lime juice to squirt in his eyes. Yeah, that's pretty funny, especially the way Chuck reacts the first time. But then Defendor uses a nutcracker to break fingers and suddenly there's no humor in the scene anymore. It's this sudden shift from goofy humor to dark drama that makes selling the movie nearly impossible.

That is a real shame, as it is an excellent movie with amazing performances by Woody Harrelson, Kat Dennings, and others. Also, they have a lot to worth with; the script by Peter Stebbings manages to create a real world with characters that are grounded. It would be too easy to go for broad laughs given the setup of a man who is mentally slow and using homemade gear to fight crime. (I saw more than a few people comparing it to Blankman. Obviously the people making these comparisons hadn't seen this movie.) But the sometimes sharp turns in tone are jarring.

It's great to see Hamilton in the movies playing itself and not some nameless American city.

For a film that is practically a direct-to-DVD release, there is a great selection of extras here, starting with an audio commentary track with the two stars, Woody Harrelson and Kat Dennings, and the director, Peter Stebbings, and the producer, Nicholas Tabarrok. This is an excellent audio commentary track with perspectives from both sides of the camera. It also balances information and entertainment (the foray into Tropic Thunder territory is memorable) while there are almost no dead spots. Next up are five deleted scenes, but it doesn't include the extended ending mentioned in the audio commentary track. If you are going to talk about a scene that was deleted, you should probably include it in the deleted scenes. There are also just over two minutes of outtakes. Finally, there is an unassuming section called Featurettes. There are five featurettes that talk about the origin of the movie, the cast, the first-time director, etc. In total it's nearly an hour of talking heads, behind-the-scene footage, and clips from the movie.

The film was only released on DVD in the United States, but the Blu-ray is available up here in Canada. In fact, since I pre-ordered it, the Blu-ray actually made it to me before the DVD screener did. Unfortunately, there are no additional extras on the Blu-ray, nor are the extras presented in High Definition. Also, since the movie only cost $4 million to make, it is not surprising to learn that the video and audio are not top notch. That said, the price is excellent. The DVD costs $19.99 American, while the Blu-ray costs $21.49 Canadian.

The Verdict

With the flood of Super Hero movies that have come out in recent years, it is great to see a movie like Defendor that treats the subject in a way that emphasizes the human drama. Superb acting by Woody Harrelson and Kat Dennings make the movie worth seeing, even if you are not a fan of the genre. The DVD has much better than expected extras, especially for a small Canadian film, while the Blu-ray is a real value, even if you have to import it from north of the border.

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Filed under: Video Review, Defendor