‘Homefront’: Efficiently diverting

November 27, 2013


Is Jason Statham the new Sylvester Stallone?

I’d always imagined him as the new Steve McQueen. But Stallone took this script down off the shelf, taking credits as writer and producer on “Homefront” for his “Expendables” costar.

It’s not hard to imagine it with Stallone playing the central character, Phil Broker. And it would not have been nearly as interesting a movie. Stallone is Stallone; you get what you get, which is always more or less the same thing – the sad-eyed sneer, the self-deprecating, Jersey-accented one-liners, the beefy (now aging) physique. He’s less an actor than an archetype.

Statham, however, is like McQueen: an action star who’s also an actor. He brings more than personality to his roles and is always interesting, even at rest. Plus he’s believable in the kind of everyman roles he often takes on.

Even working in Stallone’s minimalist action-centric script, with workmanlike direction by Gary Felder, Statham is a treat. Here he plays a DEA agent who, having lived undercover to bust a biker ring of meth cookers and distribution, Broker has quit law enforcement and moved his pre-teen daughter (Isabela Vidovic) from New Orleans to a tiny Louisiana backwater.

(At some later date, let’s have a discussion about how tax-credit incentives have made Louisiana everybody’s favorite backlot.)

Daughter Maddy is a no-nonsense gal who decks the school bully after warning him twice to leave her alone. Broker has taught her a few moves and she leaves the kid bloodied and humiliated.

That doesn’t sit well with the kid’s meth-head white-trash mom (Kate Bosworth, looking scarily skinny – meth or Method?). She and her husband call in the sheriff, which leads to an encounter with Broker at the school. He’s peaceable – right up until the bully’s dad takes a swing at him. Then he does what he does, leaving Dad in the dirt.

Now the white-trash witch is really upset. So she calls in her bad-ass brother, a local tough guy named Gator played with feline restraint by James Franco. Gator cooks a little meth himself, behind a secret door in the garage where he repairs boats and fixes motors.

He sends a couple of thugs after Broker and, when that fails, visits Broker’s house while Broker is out. Along with kidnapping Maddy’s cat, he also steals a file detailing Broker’s history – which he then uses to make a deal with the imprisoned biker chief, who’s looking for payback.

And that’s the rest of the movie. It’s straightforward action, with less hand-to-hand than you’d like and too much gunplay to be interesting. But a couple of things keep you watching.

One, of course, is Statham, who does a great slow burn and who, improbably, keeps his British accent, despite being a DEA agent (and then a retired and seemingly unemployed homeowner in a small Louisiana town). He’s the most convincing action star we’ve got at the moment.

The other pleasure is watching Franco as the silky small-time crime boss looking for his ticket to the big time. Team him up with a too-long-absent Winona Ryder – as his meth-skank moll – and you’ve got something formidable.

“Homefront” is a pure action programmer, as the trades used to call them. It’s efficient, diverting and utterly forgettable.

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