The Junior Defenders (2007) / Comedy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for language and some sexual humor
Running time: 82 min.
Cast: Fred Hazleton, Justin Henry, Bill Raymond, Brian O'Halloran, Ally Sheedy, Jason David Frank, Art Patriquin
Cameo: Pauly Shore, Peter Tork, Kevin Smith, Florence Henderson, Michael Dukakis, John Waters
Director: Keith Spiegel
Screenplay: Keith Spiegel
Review published December 23, 2007
The Junior Defenders is a mild mockumentary based on a fictitious crime-fighting child superhero television show that appeared on television in the late 1970s and early 1980s, getting cancelled right after its cliffhanger season that sought to restore its place as the country's most popular program. Written and directed on a shoestring budget by Keith Spiegel, who spanned ten years in the tinkering of it, he concocts a scenario whereby the cast is reunited over two decades later at gunpoint by a rabid fan, Norman Nields (Hazleton) , to make one final episode, and perhaps more should it prove popular. Although Nields commits quite a few heinous crimes along the way, he becomes something of a folk hero around the world for daring to bring back the most beloved pop culture phenomenon of its era.
With a budget just under $200k, Spiegel's cheapie movie becomes notable for the amount of personalities he is able to bring together to come up with a workable product, with more than a few interesting cameos to bolster the cult appeal. Auteur John Waters, whose footage is the most recent of the amendments to Spiegel's original concept, provides the opening and closing narration, and such celebrity interviews fill up the news footage, including filmmaker and comic book buff Kevin Smith (Live Free or Die Hard, Catch and Release), 1960s identities like Peter Tork ("The Monkees") and Florence Henderson ("The Brady Bunch"), and a real head-scratcher in former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
The Kevin Smith connection continues a bit in the casting of Brian O'Halloran (Clerks, Clerks II) as one of the kids grown up, and 1980s star Ally Sheedy (Shelter Island, I'll Take You There), whose appearance probably was responsible for a good chunk of the budget, performing well in an eccentric role as the only female actress of the show, now turned psychic vampire guru. Savvy fans will recognize another former child star in Justin Henry (Sixteen Candles, Lost) , who played the role of the young boy in 1979's Best Picture Oscar winner, Kramer vs. Kramer, for which he would earn a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Jason David Frank, who would become famous for playing Tommy Oliver on the "Power Rangers", plays the fourth and final of the Junior Defenders. (Trivia: in the years since his acting for the film, his character was retooled to become a gay porn star, a change that Oliver had not been too keen with, forcing more post-production tinkering on Spiegel's part).
Spiegel's film is amusing for fans of TV pop culture kitsch, especially those who love small independent films and spoofs on comic book superheroes. It has quite a few clever ideas, although it does suffer from an obvious lack of budget that makes it nearly impossible to take much of what we see at face value, not the least of which happens to be such a dreadfully bad show ever being the worldwide phenomenon it would become (Nields probably would have also had to force the audience to watch his episode at gunpoint for me to believe it). These budgetary constraints also forces stock footage to comprise most of the news programs, and the spoofing of actual television shows looks just as cheap as the production of the movie itself, which lends even more to the artifice.
Although Spiegel's film had been in the production phase long before, in the interim, mockumentaries in the comic superhero realm have become quite common; The Specials, SuperGuy and Comic Book: The Movie providie just three notable examples. The quality of the production isn't quite up the the standards of these independent efforts, and like most others in the mockumentary genre, it does lose appeal after about a half hour, when most of the clever ideas for the film start becoming regurgitated. This would have been a pretty funny short film, but as a full-length movie, it will appeal to very few outside of its niche market of obscure film and comic book culture aficionados. For those with fanboy mentalities only.
©2007 Vince Leo