Defender, The

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 11/14/05 15:52:45

"Surprise, it's not nearly as bad as you'd think."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

“The Defender” is not based on the classic Atari video game of the same name. It is, however, a direct-to-video feature directed by Dolph Lundgren, who also stars. Oh, and it features Jerry Springer as the President of the United States. Glad I have your attention.

By all accounts, you would expect this to be the most ridiculous movie ever made. So it comes as a bit of a shock to discover that not only is it not the worst movie of the year, it’s not even completely terrible. Oh, sure, it’s not good in the least, but it does know exactly what it is and refuses to pretend it’s something better. It sets out to please the kind of people who would rent a direct-to-video Dolph Lundgren actioner, and on that level, it succeeds.

It’s yet another action cheapie that’s been shot in Romania, but wisely, Lungren and screenwriter Douglas W. Miller decide not to hide this fact. And so we get a story about Secret Service agent Lance “Skipper” Rockford (Lundgren) - which may be the silliest action name ever - who’s accompanying the National Security Advisor to Romania for a top-secret meeting with a major operative in a major terrorist network. Things go awry, and soon Skipper and his crew are caught in shoot-out after shoot-out.

There are plot twists, bits of intended character insight, and several scenes in which Jerry Springer gets to look concerned while smoking a cigar, but the real purpose of “The Defender” is to give us gunfights, and the more the merrier. And here’s where the film actually works. Lundgren, who got called up to make his directorial debut after veteran schlockmeister Sidney J. Furie (mercifully) dropped out of the project, proves himself to be a pretty decent action filmmaker. He’s a little dependent on the dopey slo-mo shots and other camera trickery that suggests he really, really, really wants to make his stuff look like John Woo, but overall, the fight scenes are crisp and entertaining in a low-expectations kind of way. Given a bigger budget, a (far) better screenplay, and some respect, Lundgren just might be able to churn out a nifty action flick in the future. Who’da thunk it?

Still, what we get here is too mindless and flat to make the action scenes worth the time. The story, what there is of it, shuttles between absurd earnestness and eye-rolling cliché, capped off with a few plot twists that refuse to reward the viewer for sticking with it. Miller’s script is C-level fluff, which finds third rate actors delivering fourth rate dialogue in a vain attempt to keep the viewer occupied in between ’splosions. And while there’s a bit of giddiness to be had in the later scenes that find Springer’s President talking trash and looking tough, the talk show host’s appearance here is nothing more than cheap stunt casting that offers nothing to the film other than weak novelty value.

Strangely enough, I find myself a bit disappointed that “The Defender” isn’t nearly as awful as it looks on paper. The Bad Movie fanatic in me was hoping for nonstop idiocy. But in a small way, I’m glad I was wrong. Sure, this movie delivers nothing memorable in the least, but it does reveal a hidden talent in its star. And those relatively enjoyable action scenes made the idea of sitting through a DTV Dolph Lundgren effort not nearly as painful as usual. So while I won’t recommend the thing, I will say that if you’re the sort of person who frequents the bottom shelf of your local video store, then sure, give it a shot. Why not. After all, it’s not half bad. It’s only, say, forty-nine percent bad.

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