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Defendor -- Film Review

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Woody Harrelson, who's on a roll thanks to his Oscar-nominated turn in "The Messenger" and a crowd-pleasing one in "Zombieland," keeps the personal winning streak going with "Defendor," a dark comedy about a delusional everyman who thinks he's a superhero.

Although the film feels like something we've seen before, we've never seen it Woody-style, and it's his absolute conviction that makes this tragicomic underdog fly, even as the film remains stuck in a repetitive groove.

Given its limited release in a weekend packed with new arrivals, this Canadian production has a tough theatrical battle ahead of it but could subsequently find itself with a loyal DVD following.

Forced to reveal his secret identity to a court-appointed psychologist (Sandra Oh), Harrelson's Arthur Poppington reluctantly shares the process that changes him from a mild-mannered road-construction crew member (he's the guy who holds the "SLOW" sign) into a crusading crimefighter.

Armed with an arsenal of marbles, a squirting plastic lime that can temporarily blind his adversaries and a trusty roll of duct tape that furnishes the big silvery D on his black sweater, Defendor pledges to keep the mean streets safe while hunting for his arch nemesis, the elusive Captain Industry.

In addition to auditioning potential catchphrases like "It's squishing time," he takes in a young hooker (Kat Dennings, doing her best Ellen Page) who is being bullied by her pimp of a crooked cop (Elias Koteas).

Writer and first-time director Peter Stebbings attempts to do something interesting, mixing gentle humor and pathos into the traditional graphic comic framework.

But ultimately, the conceit of wanting us to laugh alternately at and with Poppington's alter ego never strikes a successful balance.

Saving the day is Harrelson's low-key, rooted performance, adding an unexpected layer of poignancy when things take a decidedly darker turn.

Opens: Friday, Feb. 26 (Darius Films)

Production companies: Darius Films, Buck Films
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Kat Dennings, Sandra Oh
Director-screenwriter: Peter Stebbings
Executive producers: Sean Buckley, Tim Brown, Mark Slone, Tim Merkel, John Kozman
Producer: Nicholas D. Tabarrok
Director of photography: David Greene
Production designer: Oleg Savytski
Music: John Rowley
Costume designer: Gersha Phillips
Editor: Geoff Ashenhurst
Rated R, 101 minutes