Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2004 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 25th, 2005
Fighting the War on Terror.
Dolph Lundgren (Agent Red) makes his directorial debut with this current events-inspired action flick. Does the big guy have the chops or should we quietly file this one alongside The Quest?
These are some tense times for the United States and her allies as they wage the global War on Terror. The President (Jerry Springer, Ringmaster) and his closest cabinet members have devised a new Peace Initiative to try and settle the hostilities, but this legislation is extremely controversial and has much opposition on the Hill.
But behind the scenes, the President is orchestrating a daring plan to push his agenda through. He has arranged for his National Security adviser to take an ultra-secret meeting in Romania, and the contact is a man at the center of the world's terrorist activities. Accompanying the advisor is former Gulf War bad-ass Lance Rockford (Lundgren) and his crack team of Secret Service agents.
As the enigmatic mission plays out, Rockford and his squad are suddenly overtaken by a squad of troops, relentless in their assault. As he trades gunfire with the attackers, Rockford must preserve his mission and protect the adviser, while in Washington, the President deals with his own enemies. The two face imposing odds, but not to worry: one has years of experience breaking up fights between trailer trash and the other killed Carl Weathers.
Okay, here's my deal with The Defender: it's got so much going for it, but ultimately is hamstrung by a ludicrous story.
Lundgren has proven that he is a more than capable director with this film. Aside from a few gimmicky shots and an overuse of camera tricks, The Defender plays like a theatrical feature. It looks great, the effects are top-notch, and the action is very well-executed.
And there is action. That's point one that goes to The Defender: it's easily one of the straight-up most action-saturated flicks I've seen in a while, and leaps and bounds above any of its other direct-to-DVD ilk.
After about twenty minutes or so of exposition and setting up the story, the flick goes balls-to-the-wall. From the first moment the enemies open fire, the movie rarely takes a breath. Seriously, this must have set some kind of record in the prop department for most blanks used.
Plus it's good action. The shootout scenes are tense and terrifically choreographed, and the premise of a bunch of outnumbered sharpshooters facing off against a cascade of faceless bullet magnets, while certainly done many times before, is a dependable set-up for quality mayhem. In that way, The Defender reminded me of Assault on Precinct 13.
This is hard R stuff, too. Props to Lundgren for crafting uncompromising, gritty sequences that hearken back to the days when films like these weren't panty-wearing PG-13 CGI-laced knock-offs. The bullets hit, the blood flows in torrents, knives are shoved into guts, necks are snapped, and the squibs detonate like crazy. The action in The Defender is realistic (despite the dozens of clips these guys would have to have on them to supply their gunplay) and when the good guys go down, it ain't pretty.
Bolstering the kinetic on-screen happenings is the topsy-turvy story. There are a lot of questions that go unanswered for at least the first hour, leaving the audience pretty much in the dark. We don't know what the meeting is for, what the President has up his sleeve, and even who the bad guys are. Kudos to the script and its writer for stringing me along nicely, hoping for any slice of exposition. It's when the revelations finally do come that I tune out.
I won't spoil anything because there are a lot of plot twists, red herrings, and even a traitor or two. The process in which these were unveiled is tight and well-done -- it's the actual reveals that suck. When you do end up finding out what the point of the whole operation was, I'd bet my socks you'll be disappointed, and probably thinking: "There had to be an easier way to do that." Basically, the long set-up bore rotten fruit, leaving me with an action story that's solid on the action, but unrewarding on the story.
As I said, The Defender looks great. The transfer is solid, and the colors hold up strong. It looks as good as any movie from the theatre, though the 1.78:1 widescreen isn't anamorphic. The 5.1 mix is loud and active, but not as immersive as I would have liked, considering the copious amount of gunfire. Just trailers for extras.
Man, if the story was better, I'd be pimping this film seven ways to Sunday. As it stands, The Defender is a visual treat and boasts some killer mayhem, but the substance just isn't there. Pick it up for the gunplay, but prepare for some lazy cop-out payoff at the end.
The jury is split over this disc and would like to be sequestered for several days with Masters of the Universe and a box of Junior Mints.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R