Jason Statham is a movie star in the classic mold: He has established a steady screen personality as a heroic tough guy, and he rarely deviates from it, no matter what role he is playing.
Because Statham sticks to the action-movie genre in which he excels, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. While it’s true that he doesn’t make bad movies good, neither does he make good movies bad; he is a dependable brand, and occasionally he leads an above-average production that is enlivened by his presence.
Homefront definitely benefits from Statham’s starring performance as a former DEA agent turned full-time family man. Sylvester Stallone’s screenplay, based on a 2005 novel by Chuck Logan, starts the plot a-ticking in its first scene, as Statham’s “Phil Broker” is unfairly blamed by a motorcycle gang boss for the death of his son. Disgusted by the DEA’s failure to follow protocol, Broker quits and moves with his daughter — aged 9, about to turn 10 — to his late wife’s hometown in the Louisiana bayou.
The girl, named Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), turns the tables on a full-bodied young bully, raising the ire of the kid’s parents, especially his drug-adled mother (Kate Bosworth). She goads her husband into picking a fight with Broker, which doesn’t end well for the sallow fellow, and so dear old mom goes running to her brother Gator. And then the fun really begins, because Gator is played by James Franco, and his character is definitely not a standard-issue ‘B-movie’ villain.
Gator is introduced smashing a teenager’s leg with a bat, but that doesn’t represent his usual modus operandi. Gather, recognizing that he’s not really an intimidating physical presence among adults, prefers to use his brain to out-think his opponents, which has allowed him to become a big fish in a small pond. So when he sniffs around Broker’s house and discovers why he’s living under an assumed name, he devises a clever plan that he thinks will make him a big-time player in the state.
Statham provides the steady anchor here, while the smart plot twists, unusual character developments, and ace performances by the supporting cast really make the movie hop.
Director Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls, Runaway Jury) keeps the momentum going, though his action sequences are the usual blizzard of quick shots and whiplash camera moves that define 21st century “action” movies. Still, there’s the pleasure of Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder as dirty, disreputable women, Rachelle Lefevre as a concerned schoolteacher and possible romantic interest, Clancy Brown as the town’s good/bad sheriff, and James Franco, who works hard to play it straight as the chief bad guy.
The pleasures of Homefront may be minor, but they are by no means incidental to the strength of the movie. It’s an action exercise that’s stronger than it looks.
Homefront opens wide throughout Dallas and Ft. Worth on Wednesday, November 27.