The likable but hardly memorable, the offbeat action-comedy Defendor follows the exploits of Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson), an emotionally crippled, comic book–obsessed construction worker who goes out at night dressed as Defendor, a crime-fighting vigilante without superpowers or a gift for clever catchphrases. (“Look out, termites — it’s squishing time” is about the best he can muster.)
More likely to get the crap beaten out of him than he is to apprehend evildoers, Arthur is obsessively pursuing a mysterious nemesis named Captain Industry, in the process running afoul of a crooked cop (Elias Koteas) and befriending a young prostitute (Kat Dennings).
Rather than viewing Arthur with withering scorn, Harrelson and writer-director Peter Stebbings clearly have a lot of affection for this well-meaning, imbalanced everyman, using him as a metaphor for the chasm between our heroic aspirations and our meager realities. But although Harrelson displays the right balance of sweetness and quiet instability, Defendor’s genial spirit fails to mesh with the filmmaker’s exploration of darker emotional terrain, whether he’s trying to evoke pathos from Arthur’s unhappy childhood or create tension from Defendor’s showdown with a dangerous Russian gang. (Even worse, Stebbings throws in some weak social commentary by turning Arthur into an unlikely champion for the city’s disenfranchised citizens.)
In some ways, Defendor’s modest charm is preferable to the furrowed-brow misery of deranged-loser cautionary tales like Big Fan, but while Arthur may be a nicer breed of kook, that doesn’t mean he’s a more compelling one.