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'Homefront' turns Jason Statham into Sylvester Stallone

Written by Sylvester Stallone, "Homefront" winds up starring Jason Statham as an ex-DEA agent who pisses off James Franco.

In "Homefront," Jason Statham faces his mightiest foes: James Franco and Winona Ryder. Credit: Justin Lubin In "Homefront," Jason Statham faces his mightiest foes: James Franco and Winona Ryder.
Credit: Justin Lubin

'Homefront'
Director: Gary Fleder
Stars: Jason Statham, James Franco
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

Sylvester Stallone wrote “Homefront” in 2008, but he might as well have written it in 1988, or even 1978, or 1968. It’s a drive-in programmer with a weirdly over-qualified cast — slight but lean and deceptively smarter, in spots, than it lets on. Sly allegedly got too busy to make it or star in it himself. He’s actually just too old, finally, and too conspicuously bulky to play Phil Broker, an ex-DEA undercover agent trying to disappear into small town American life. Jason Statham is a better fit, accent and all. He’s not ripped like the others in “The Expendables.” His menace is more inward and suggestive, even when he’s whipping out lightning fast hurt bombs.

Of course, it was inevitable that Statham — the last action hero, or at least the last traditional Western action hero — would one day work with Stallone. Here, he goes one further: He becomes him — sort of. Say what you will, but Stallone has range; he can do tough but also puppy dog hurt. Statham can do brooding — he’s excellent in “The Bank Job” and this year’s PTSD-plagued solider drama “Redemption” — and he can do funny (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” the “Crank”s). But he could never rock the self-doubt that turns him into a big-hearted Rocky lug.

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His part in “Homefront” doesn’t call on that, and his emotional remoteness comes in handy in the plot. Looking to lie low, Statham’s Phil moves with his young daughter (he’s a widower) to the boondocks. An altercation at school between her and the bully — she’s obviously good in a fight — pisses off the wrong people, namely a junkie mom (Kate Bosworth!), whose brother, with the delightful name Gator Bodine (James Franco), is a local, low-rent meth maker. Phil is slow to apologize — he knows he’s not wrong, even if feigning guilt might be the new neighborly thing to do — and soon Gator finds himself with information that could put his life in jeopardy.

Of course, this is all leading to Statham beating the piss out of Franco. It’s not a fair fight, obviously, but that’s one thing that makes this more interesting than even it perhaps realizes. Phil isn’t that compelling, and Statham doesn’t yet know how to play grieving beyond acting even more stolid than usual. But the bad guys — including Gator’s dive bar waitress girlfriend (Winona Ryder) — are bad guys in way over their heads. They want something bigger, they attempt to get it, and before they realize it they’ve engineered a climax far more engaging than the rote home invasion one to which the film is building.

Franco oozes don’t-care attitude; he mumbles his lines, even ones that are supposed to be shouted. But the approach works: He thinks he’s too cool for a Jason Statham action movie, and he’s rewarded with a beautiful (albeit too cut up) smackdown. He’s not a great villain; his idea of menace is to steal a little girl’s toy bunny and decapitate it. But that’s what makes “Homefront” moderately unique in the annals of junk cinema.

 
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