In this day and age of political unrest and widespread chaos across the globe, it's a small comfort, but a comfort none the less, that we've still got Dolph Lundgren to keep the world safe for freedom. Not content to simply 'act' he's now made his directorial debut in The Defender, and you know what? Despite how stacked the odds were against him, being Dolph and all, the movie doesn't suck. It's brainless, unrealistic, and riddled with cliches, but really, it doesn't suck.
Set in modern America with the 'War On Terror' in full swing, the President of the United States (played here by Jerry Springer… seriously, that Jerry Springer is the President in this movie) and his allies are trying to push through Congress a plan that they hope will eventually result in world peace but it's meeting with a lot of opposition and the President knows that they'll have to take more drastic measures to make it work.
Unbeknownst to the general public, the President has planned for the National Security Advisor to make a secret trip to Romania where he'll be meeting with a man who is in deep with the terrorists and has a lot of clout within their ranks. To make sure things go smoothly, a Gulf War veteran named Lance Rockford (yep, that's Dolph's character's name in the film), and a few disposable secret agents, will be accompanying him on the journey.
Once the Americans arrive at the scheduled meeting place, they're attacked by a group of militants who are obviously shooting to kill. Lance is going to have to fight like the devil himself to get out of there alive with the National Security Advisor and hope that the President can get them back to the US safe and sound before it's too late, as the fate of the free world rests on their shoulders.
Okay, so this movie is hardly reinventing the wheel. It's obviously made to cash in on patriotic sympathies and the story is hardly original (though the way it plays out is actually clever, not revealing too much until the last twenty minutes) – not even close, in fact. On that level, this film is a disaster – but, as an entertaining shoot'em up, The Defender delivers. Dolph's movie is paced really well and although it takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to get going, once it takes off it goes and goes and goes all the way until the end credits roll. There are plenty of shoot outs, explosions and stand offs and lots of bad dialogue and tense situations to string it all together from one action set piece to the next.
There are some cringe inducing moments of bad action movie slow-mo camera tricks but other than that, The Defender is a straight up 'kill'em all, let God sort'em out' film in the tradition of the Cannon films of the mid eighties. The fight choreography is solid, the performances are as good as you'd expect from a film carried by Dolph Lundgren and Jerry Springer, and the violence is hard hitting and almost believable in spots. It's a dumb film, but it's so violent and bloody and sincere in its mayhem that you can't help but enjoy it.
The Defender comes to DVD in a decent 1.78.1 widescreen transfer that is unfortunately not enhanced for anamorphic television sets. Colors look good, black levels stay strong and skin tones look lifelike and natural. There isn't any print damage and only some slight film grain is present in certain scenes, resulting in a very clean and fairly detailed image. It's a shame that the transfer isn't anamorphic but other than that, there's not a whole lot to complain about here – the movie certainly looks better than most straight to video low budget action films.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track is pretty aggressive and makes good use of the rear channels during the shoot out scenes and action scenes. Dialogue is clean and clear and always easy to understand and the track is free of any hiss or distortion. Bass levels are decent but could have been stronger, and the music could have had a little more power to it but for the most part, this movie sounds pretty good.
The extras on this release are limited to a trailer for the feature and for a couple of other unrelated DVD releases.
The Defender is a surprisingly fun action film. Sure, it's pretty much completely mindless and it's not breaking any new ground but Dolph has crafted a tense and violent film that, if nothing else, is a really entertaining time waster. This one makes for a very solid rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.