Shitty Movie Sundays: The Defender (2004)

At first glance, this flick doesn’t look like much. It’s just another direct-to-video action flick with a miniscule budget, a small cast led by a Hollywood b-lister, and just a single location where all the fun stuff happens. It’s about as anonymous as these types of flicks get. Then, one looks a little deeper. It stars Dolph Lundgren. No surprise there. He’s starred in dozens of these types of films. This is also the first one he directed. Shitty movie fans rejoice! But, that’s not all.

This is also a very topical film, in a way most b-movies never bother with. It was released in 2004, at the height of The Global War on Terror, as it was dubbed in the political wonkiverse. The United States was engaged in two very bloody wars, and looking with paranoiac diligence for enemies wherever they may be. No one could be trusted, and this film, believe it or not, captures a lot of the prevailing mood of the time. But, there’s still more!

Jerry Springer, the late, great daytime sleaze talk show host, and former mayor of Cincinnati, plays the President of the United States. And he’s decent. Any quick perusal of this site will tell a reader that I have seen a lot of bad performances in movies. Jerry Springer is not bad in this movie. He’s not great, and is clearly no professional, but his stunt casting could have been a disaster, and it was not. The pièce de résistance of his performance is when his character wraps up the movie with a genuine ‘final thought’ pulled straight from his legendary television show. Wow. It’s like the shitty movie version of FDR’s fireside chats.

Anyway, The Defender comes to us via screenwriter Douglas W. Miller, and what looks to have been oil money, if the list of producers is any indication. Lundgren, as mentioned earlier, directs and stars as Lance Rockford, an agent of some kind. It’s never explained if he’s Secret Service, CIA, or some other, but he is leading a team escorting The Defender 2004 movie posterthe National Security Advisor, Mrs. Jones (Caroline Lee-Johnson), to a villa in Romania, where she is to conduct a secret summit with a worldwide terrorist leader, in the hopes that the U.S. can extricate itself from the quagmire.

There are people that do not want this meeting to happen, so Rockford and his team find themselves under siege. It’s all pretty copy/paste from other movies, and that’s fine. There are only so many ways to bake a cake. About the only thing that makes the action in this film different from so many other shoot ’em ups is that characters get dropped before one might expect, and the blood is more realistic than one normally sees in movies like this.

The details almost don’t matter. The bad guys are faceless throughout, and of the good guys, only Rockford is afforded any sort of backstory. Establishing camaraderie amongst the group was done with a slow motion walk in one scene, and that’s about it. The only other gun-wielders of note in the film, besides Lundgren, are Shakara Ledard as team member Kaye, and Gerald Kyd as Morgan, who is the terrorist’s bodyguard. Not knowing who is attacking the villa, Morgan has to team up with Rockford and company.

While all this is happening at the villa, political intrigue grips Washington, as President Springer (his character is never actually given a name) finds he has enemies at home to deal with. All of this leads to an interesting final act twist, a little betrayal, and then bloody denouement.

It’s the sophistication of the plot that is most remarkable for this movie. Dumb action flicks aren’t supposed to have ideas this relevant for the time in which they were made. Who watches a direct-to-video schlockfest to be reminded of the evils which plague the real world? I certainly don’t, but that kind of credibility didn’t hurt the movie at all. Its very nature as a low-budget b-action flick did that. Bullets fly, things blow up, good guys and bad guys bleed out, and Jerry Springer, as always, leaves the viewer with a thoughtful life lesson.

Despite my praise, The Defender slots into the lower half of the Watchability Index. At one point in the first act, Rockford and company are sitting around the villa bored to death waiting for anything to happen. Sure, things get heated shortly after, but that scene was an encapsulation of the viewer’s experience up to that point, and can’t be ignored. The Defender takes over the #316 spot from Malone.

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