A film by Dolph Lundgren
As you know, I’m a fan of these movies where an action star decides to take matters into their own hands and just direct the damn thing themselves. Participants include Bruce Lee, Tom Laughlin, Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Sylvester Stallone and most successfully Clint Eastwood and Takeshi Kitano. THE DEFENDER is the first picture directed by Dolph Lundgren (he has also made a second one, THE MECHANIK).
One thing Dolph already blew before you even watch this one is that generic title. I don’t think this is based on the old video game Defender, so there’s no excuse. It sounds like the american title for a Jet Li movie, and probaly is. On the positive side, he actually is a defender in this movie. He defends stuff. Specifically, he is the head of security for the presidential security adviser. So he’s defending her.
As far as stunt casting goes Dolph gets a few points because in this movie, Jerry Springer plays the president of the United States. That’s not quite as ridiculous as some people might think, actually, if they don’t know that before he was a host of staged talk shows he was the mayor of Cincinatti. But it’s still funny to see, and near the end he does a speech about the meaning of America that could pass for “Jerry’s Final Thought.” Dolph previously co-starred with Montel Williams in THE PEACEKEEPER so this might actually be a Lundgrenics trademark. I would like to see him take on that crazy witch lady Sally Jesse Raphael in one of his future works. Maybe Sally Jesse and Montel are abusing troubled teens at a brainwashing camp out in the desert somewhere, and Dolph has to go undercover as a teen junkie (or as a square dad) in order to bust em out. At some point Sally Jesse would get thrown off a cliff and you’d see her falling Hans Grueber style, and she would cackle all the way down.
Despite what you’d expect from a movie directed by Dolph Lundgren and starring Jerry Springer as the president, this is not really a funny or goofy movie. It’s a straight forward, competent low budget action movie is all. The action is mostly just gunfire, nothing too exciting. The plot is full of twists and turns and it’s a little hard to follow. The politics of the movie are pretty interesting though, especially coming from a guy mostly associated with anti-commie propaganda like ROCKY IV and Jack Abramoff’s RED SCORPION. It could take place in the next administration after Bush, with a new president who wants to drastically change foreign policy. It’s mentioned that “the war on terror” needs a drastic rethink, we need to stop scaring the shit out of the rest of the world so there’s about to be a vote on the president’s “peace inititiative.” They never tell you what the plan is, though, and they’re careful not to say if Springer is a democrat or republican. The point is, the movie is acknowledging that the Bush approach of terrorizing everybody and hoping as a side effect it might stop terrorism is stupid.
But at first it seems like Dolph’s mission is to protect the security adviser while she has a top secret meeting with a bin Laden type. Like maybe she’s gonna pay him off or something. The setup is pretty unbelievable for something like that, because the Condoleeza type only has Dolph and 5 others protecting her, and the bin Laden type only has one guy with a scraggly beard which I guess is supposed to suggest he’s Arabic but would probaly work better for playing Charles Manson.
Anyway this part is interesting because it’s easy to agree with the movie’s premise that we need to find a new way to deal with terrorism, but you also gotta be uncomfortable with somebody sitting down with bin Laden to discuss it. Then, after this has been milked for a while, there’s a twist. And this is a spoiler for all you Dolph maniacs out there, read on at your own perile. It turns out this is not the real guy, it’s actually a CIA agent and the whole thing is a trap set to draw out some military industrial complexionists who are planning a coup against the president, who they say is a traitor because he wants peace. I’m not really sure why the whole terrorist ruse is necessary, it seems like there would be an easier and less morally ambiguous way to do it. But it probaly makes sense. I trust Dolph.
(In the ensuing mayhem, by the way, the fake bin Laden type gets shot and killed. This will probably make the world think the real guy is dead when he’s really still out there. Keep that in mind for part 2, Dolph.)
I never really liked Dolph all that much until I saw him playing an American in BLACKJACK. He plays these Russian guys (he does it again in THE MECHANIK) and he just seems like this big bland hunk of meat, but when he’s more like himself he’s got some charisma. This one isn’t anywhere near as entertaining as BLACKJACK, but I think it helped me understand the appeal of Dolph. For one thing, he’s aging better than some of the other ’80s guys. He’s still in good shape but the age adds lines to his face that make him look more interesting. He kind of looks like Viggo Mortensen on steroids. And to be honest he’s just more classy than some of those other guys. He doesn’t go for ponytails and mullets and shit, he has a classic look. Suits and turtlenecks. Not trying to prove he’s edgy.
But the big revelation I had, if this counts as a big revelation to anybody: Dolph doesn’t seem like he’s full of himself. Almost all of the American action heroes seem like they have big egos. I mean sure, they play nice, modest guys some of the time, but you never buy it 100%. Deep down, you know Jean-Claude and Steven Seagal and everybody have huge egos. But at least in this movie and in BLACKJACK, I believe that Dolph is a genuinely nice and humble guy. I guess The Rock has kind of the same thing, this sense of genuine decency to him. It makes this kind of movie a little more watchable, even if it’s nothing special. And it’s not. But I wouldn’t write off director Dolph Lundgren.
And that’s my final thought. Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.