With Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Izabela Vidovic. Written by Sylvester Stallone. Directed by Gary Fleder. Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief sexuality. 100 minutes.
With most of the action stars of past decades now doing best in movies like “Red” and “The Expendables”––in which the whole shtick is that it’s old people in a younger person’s genre––the hunt is on for who can carry a ready-made action thriller today. Jason Statham is certainly a major contender. In his mid-40s, he can carry off the role of lethal killer hiding behind a quiet demeanor without looking like he’ll want a nap soon afterwards.
HOMEFRONT boasts a script by action veteran Sylvester Stallone (based on a novel by Chuck Logan), and you can see the role of Phil Broker as one Stallone might have played two or three decades ago. In a prologue, Broker (Statham) is working as an undercover DEA agent. When things spin out of control, Broker keeps his cool and sees to it that the dealers are apprehended, dead or alive.
Jump ahead in time and Broker, now a retired widower, moves to a sleepy Louisiana town with his 9-year-old daughter (Izabela Vidovic). When a fourth grade bully takes her cap she asks him to return it… twice. He pushes her down. She bloodies his nose and leaves him flat on his back. While she’s not in trouble, no one seems to think there’s anything wrong with a boy built like tiny sumo wrestler physically assaulting a girl. So when Broker shows up at the school the boy’s hysterical mother (Kate Bosworth) starts shrieking at him and goading her husband into a fight. Broker makes short work of him.
This is what sets the main story in motion, since the woman is strung out on methamphetamines, supplied by her sleazy brother Croc (James Franco), whose boating operation is simply a cover for his meth lab. This starts a growing battle between Broker and Croc, the latter aided by his own meth-addicted girlfriend Sheryl (Winona Ryder). From there on you can easily map out the move and countermove as the two head towards a showdown that is guaranteed to be both bloody and explosive.
As we kick off the holiday movie season with movies that are either family-oriented or Oscar bait, there’s always a bit of counter-programming: an action movie here, a horror movie there. This is a straightforward thriller with beatings, shootings, a young girl in peril, and a stoic hero who never loses his cool. It’s worked before. There’s no reason it shouldn’t work again.
What makes it work––besides the action scenes––is that Statham is like a British Clint Eastwood, preferring actions to words, but who lets the audience see the mind working behind the poker face. He’s surrounded by a top-notch supporting cast, with Franco as yet another sleazy drug dealer (as in “Spring Breakers”), and both Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder effectively cast against type as strung-out addicts. There are some loose ends in the script, most notably with the local sheriff (Clancy Brown) who may or may not be dirty himself.
Still, the primary audience for “Homefront” simply wants to be engaged and then be able to hold on for the ride. It delivers the action goods. Viewers will have to decide if Statham is a movie action hero they’re willing to follow.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.