By Charley October 23, 2005 11:17 PM
When you watch a competition where you have no stake--you don't really care who wins--do you find yourself cheering for the underdog? I had that feeling when I was putting "The Defender" into my DVD player; I was rooting for this film so hard and not just because it co-stars Jerry Springer as the President of The United States.
That's reason enough to hope for the best, but "The Defender" is also Dolph Lundgren's directorial debut. As far as I'm concerned, Dolph's He-Man, Ivan Drago and the original Frank Castle, so I have a soft spot for him.
So we've got B-movie hero Lundgren and talk-show playboy Springer headlining a film about terrorism, US politics and the conspiracies that bind the two. What could possibly go wrong?
Lundgren plays Lance Rockford (seriously), the head of an elite security team whose assignment is to guard the head of the National Security Agency.
The group finds themselves in trouble at a remote hotel in Romania where the NSA Chief is having a secret meeting with a known terrorist (picture Condi Rice meeting up with Osama bin Laden). Her goal is to pay off the terrorist so that he will disappear forever. See, killing him would make him a martyr, as would convicting him of a crime. The only choice is to pay him off. Naturally.
If that sounds ridiculous to you, I would say you are fairly astute. It doesn't work much better on film. And it gets worse. That summary represents the first in a series of twists that ultimately had me wondering where the sensible storyline about paying off the terrorist had gone.
The team finds themselves battling a group of masked gunmen and all hell breaks lose, as you might imagine. Conspiracies are afoot at home and abroad and it's never clear until the very end who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. I'm not actually sure if it is clear at the very end, but it seems like it was meant to be.
The performances are unremarkable, but okay--even Springer is fairly convincing as the President who has to make tough decisions for the good of a nation. Lundgren is in standard form. All of the actors do well with what they've been given. The dialogue works better than the overall story, although none of the characters is developed beyond a cursory introduction that barely even establishes any of them as token.
Lundgren is no Scorsese and if he's ever nominated for an Oscar, I'll eat my copy of "The Defender," but the direction in this film is not bad. Though "not bad" isn't usually taken as a positive, it should be here as that ranking holds up pretty well against everything else that this film is made of.
There were several unnecessarily long shots--one in particular that appears twice, where the team walks to the airplane, talking and laughing--that do little to advance the story and had me wondering if the filmmakers were struggling to hit a full 90 minutes. (The film clocks out at 91 minutes, according to the box.) If filling up dead space was the reason for the extraneous action there was probably no way around it and it worked for that purpose. If there were plot points lying all over the editing room floor, that was a huge mistake.
I rooted for "The Defender." I hoped for at least a so-bad-it's-funny film. Unfortunately, the novelty of President Jerry Springer doesn't extend beyond the notion and Lundgren delivers only a lukewarm film with boring characters and a poorly-conceived story. Even by B-movie standards, "The Defender" fails to deliver.