Harrelson saves superhero film

LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:42 PM ET

By day, Arthur is a sweet-natured giant whose life is circumscribed by his intellectual challenges.

By night, he’s a superhero called Defendor — at least in his own mind.

As the titular character in Defendor, Arthur prowls the city streets, trying to rescue the downtrodden with his arsenal of inventive weapons. You’d be surprised how many bad guys can be stopped by marbles, a slingshot or lime juice, and in a pinch there’s Arthur’s army-issue billy club.

He is fearless when it comes to stopping crime, or defending the underdog.

He’s also hurt a lot. Defendor’s superhero costume is ridiculous, involving a fair amount of duct tape and a painted-on mask, but there’s nothing funny about this guy’s clear-eyed view of the truth. Arthur/Defendor is both the fool and the wise man in this story, and Woody Harrelson plays him to perfection.

When he’s not fighting crime, Arthur has a job holding up traffic signs for a construction company. He lives in the company’s workshop — without their knowledge — and generally fends for himself.

As the movie opens, Arthur goes out at night in his Defendor persona and takes on a corrupt cop (Elias Koteas) he witnesses harassing a young prostitute; the girl (Kat Dennings) eventually becomes Defendor’s friend.

She’s manipulative at first, and it’s tough to tell what her motives might be, but she helps Defendor in his obsessive quest for a villain called Captain Industry. In flashback, bits of Arthur’s childhood reveal why he wants to find Captain Industry, the person he blames for his mother’s disappearance; back in present time, he winds up pursuing a criminal kingpin and exposing police corruption.

Then the media get hold of the Defendor story. Is Defendor a crazed vigilante or just a citizen tired of being kicked around? Lisa Ray makes a cameo appearance as a newspaper reporter. Also glimpsed in a few superb scenes in the film is Sandra Oh, as Arthur’s psychiatrist.

Defendor starts off light and amusing and gets progressively darker, and more intense, as the story unfolds. Defendor’s bleak base of operations is Hamilton, a place with more than its fair share of blighted urban nooks and crannies. It’s a seamy world out there, but Defendor stands at the ready to keep people safe.

Harrelson is a master at keeping his character real, and he really is the reason to keep watching Defendor. It’s just too bad that the plot goes on to thicken so much that it congeals.

The prize-winning Defendor was first shown in Toronto at last fall’s international film festival.

(This film is rated 14A)


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