Friday, November 29, 2013

Statham vs. Swamp People: "Homefront" decent of its kind



Homefront (2013)
100 min., rated R.

Don't confuse it with "Homeland." Had Sylvester Stallone not waited so long, "Homefront" might have been another badass action vehicle for him in his '80s heyday. Serving as a producer, Stallone wrote the screenplay, based on Chuck Logan's 2005 novel of the same name, and handed Jason Statham the leading role. Director Gary Fleder (2003's "Runaway Jury" and 1997's "Kiss the Girls") doesn't bring anything more than a workmanlike, made-for-home-viewing style, but aside from the occasional reliance on a jittery shooting style, the punch- and kick-centric action is crisply cut and satisfyingly tough. It's grittier than expected, too, and better for its R-rating. Not bad of its kind, "Homefront" is a streamlined B-movie with Statham doing his thing against A-list and resurging A-list talent. Any movie that casts James Franco as a white-trash, meth-cooking swamp rat named Gator Bodine is clearly trying. 

Two years after being a narc in a meth bust and one year after losing his wife, ex-DEA agent Phil Broker (Jason Statham) tries laying low in the bayou town of Rayville, Louisiana, doing some carpentry and riding horses around with his 9-year-old daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic). But he's also taught Maddy how to defend herself, and after she gives a recess bully a bloody nose, Dad comes to school and has to face the wrath of the bully's belligerent, strung-out mother, Cassie (Kate Bosworth), and father, Jimmy (Marcus Hester), who tries to fight him but obviously fails. Cassie doesn't like being disrespected, so she sends her brother Gator (Franco), a boat-repair shop owner who runs a meth business on the side, to Broker's land to scare him and Maddy. Through a little "country payback"snooping through his basement and finding DEA case files, as well as stealing Maddy's pet black cat Luther and her stuffed bunny—Gator knows Broker's background and summons his trashy drug moll, Sheryl (Winona Ryder), to involve some dangerous bikers. Broker just wanted to mind his own business, but if he has to take out the trashy scum to protect his daughter, he will.

In taking more time than predicted to get the ball rolling, "Homefront" does work up some tension, as Cassie's drug-fueled pettiness opens up a can of worms and yet never gets crazy enough. A bone-crunching fuel-station altercation with some caricatured local rednecks really shows us what Broker is working with, and then once there's a siege on Broker and Maddy's home, the thugs aren't such dangerous threats as they are targets. Jason Statham is sturdy as usual, being stoic with deadpan humor occasionally flowing through the cracks and showing off his choreographed bread and butter. Pay no mind that his British accent is left intact and no one in the little hick town questions it. For those who feel he gets so much work (this is his third movie this year), only to play a distillation of the same blunt, taciturn killing machine, well, after showing some vulnerability in "Redemption" where he took up a relationship with a nun, he plays a father this time. Sharing scenes with the warm but tough and intelligent Izabela Vidovic, as daughter Maddie, Statham does add a gentler side to his repertoire, giving him even more motivation for putting the beatdown on some sleazeballs and then holding back at times.

So skinny that her jeans fall off her hips and looking like hell with bags under her eyes, a vanity-free Kate Bosworth is impressively enraging and then eventually somewhat empathetic as Gator's rough-living tweaker sister Cassie. She seems to walk in from an even chewier film. James Franco is eerily sleazy, giving Gator enough quirks to not make him just another stereotypical snake, but one wonders where this character could have gone had he been written with even more layers on the page like his crazier creation of Alien in "Spring Breakers." As Gator's skittish "meth whore" Sheryl, a bizarrely cast Winona Ryder is also compulsively watchable, but she isn't really able to get a grip on her character.

The "Walking Tall"-ish plot is boilerplate and simple without overcomplicating things too much. Neither memorably good nor bad, the dialogue could have used some punching up by Stallone. But, without any thematic substance or high ambitions, "Homefront" works just fine as a muscular, serviceable genre programmer that entertains for its run time and then you go home. It adds little to the ass-kicking Statham canon but does pretty much what you want it to do, which is more than what Statham's last outing, the messy "Parker," can say.

Grade: B -

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