Director: Peter Stebbings
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Michael Kelly, Sandra Oh, Kat Dennings
Synopsis: Arthur Poppington is a mentally handicapped individual whom dresses up as the vigilante Defendor, with weapons including marbles, angry wasps, and a WWI trench club. He is on a mission to defeat the villain “Captain Industry”, whom nobody seems to have heard of. He is assisted by Kat, a prostitute he meets through his crime-fighting deeds.
The synopsis of this film indicates that this is a less-successful version of Kick-Ass, and given that the latter film had limited success at best, it is hardly a surprise that in Australia this was a straight-to-DVD effort. I wish I could say that in reality this film is a hidden gem, and there are some genuinely moving moments in the film which could have given it that potential. The fact remains however that this is a very uneven film, and the good moments are damaged as a result of being in a film struggling to define its identity.
I may not have even gotten to the good parts of the film if I was not of an obsessive-compulsive nature when it comes to cinema. When I start a film I must finish it. Yet I truly struggled with the first 45 minutes of this film. I just was not sure where it was heading. It had been billed as a comedy, and yet the action is of a mentally incapable man constantly putting himself in harm’s way. Okay, put that simply, it may indeed be recipe for comedy, but Harrelson’s performance channels a very believable mental handicap. It is hard to laugh at him because I found myself more inclined to feel sorry for him. Ironically, this is where the power in the latter half of the film comes, but does that excuse these early problems. I feel I would have been more inclined to embrace the film if they had focussed on a serious examination of mental illness at these stages rather than try to make a joke out of it.
Why? Because the latter half of the film changes focus from his problems to his true virtues. He has an unimpeachable sense of right and wrong, even if he does not understand much beyond that. A lot of the film is told in flashback, as Arthur talks with a court-appointed psychiatrist, played with marvellous sympathy by Oh. She succinctly identifies Arthur’s strength, in that people like him because he is a genuinely good man. We also learn, through these sessions, and with his friendship with his boss (Kelly), that he has indeed performed some genuinely heroic acts, all out of very pure motives.
In the end, Arthur’s story is a sad yet ultimately inspiring one. Harrelson’s performance I would say is one of his best. Yet in asking the audience to laugh at him, the film creates an insurmountable uncomfortableness which pervades until it starts getting to the genuine heart at the centre of this movie.
2.5 out of 5