Saturday, November 30, 2013

In Theaters: HOMEFRONT (2013)

(US - 2013)

Directed by Gary Fleder.  Written by Sylvester Stallone.  Cast: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Izabela Vidovic, Frank Grillo, Clancy Brown, Rachelle Lefevre, Omar Benson Miller, Chuck Zito, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Marcus Hester, Lance E. Nichols. (R, 100 mins)

Based on a 2006 novel by Chuck Logan, HOMEFRONT was scripted by Sylvester Stallone, who intended to star before deciding he was too old for the lead and handed the project over to his fellow Expendable Jason Statham.  Stallone's script takes some liberties with Logan's novel, one of a series of thrillers featuring former Minnesota cop Phil Broker.  In the book, Broker, his wife, and daughter move to rural Minnesota as Broker tangles with local meth cookers.  In the movie, Broker (Statham) is a widower who moves with his ten-year-old daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) to rural Louisiana two years after leading an undercover bust that resulted in the death of the son of biker kingpin Danny T (Chuck Zito).  When Maddy decks a bully at recess, it sets off a chain reaction of violence and revenge.  The bully's mother is white-trash tweaker Cassie Klum (Kate Bosworth), who goads her spineless husband Jimmy (Marcus Hester) into a fight with Broker, who easily kicks Jimmy's ass.  Broker approaches Jimmy at his job and apologizes and the two men agree to let it go, but Cassie isn't satisfied and approaches her older brother and local meth lord Gator Bodine (James Franco). When Broker easily handles a pair of Gator's stooges, Gator pops into the Broker home and snoops around, stealing Maddy's cat, a stuffed animal, and some Danny T files in Broker's basement.  Needing a powerful organization like Danny T's MC to help his meth distribution network, Gator enlists the aid of biker groupie and meth whore Sheryl (Winona Ryder) to bring in the incarcerated Danny T's crew, headed by the psychotic Cyrus (Frank Grillo), to take care of Broker and set up a sweet deal for himself in the process.  Obviously, things don't go according to plan for Gator or the bikers.

Looking a bit like what might happen if Statham was dropped into the middle of WINTER'S BONE by way of STRAW DOGS, HOMEFRONT is one of the action star's stronger efforts, and he's helped by an unusual supporting cast and some unexpected turns in the script.  I liked the way that the role of the antagonist kept shifting throughout the film:  first, it's Cassie, and when she runs to Gator after Broker kicks her husband's ass, Gator has other things to do and isn't really interested in her Broker issues but does it because he's her brother.  When Broker reaches a tentative truce with Cassie and her husband, it's too late to stop Gator, who now knows who Broker is and tries to use him to set up his deal with the bikers.  When crazed Cyrus enters the story about an hour in, he's so obsessed with vengeance that even Gator decides to keep his distance from what's about to go down.  For a few minutes, even Sheryl takes center stage as the villain when she kidnaps Maddy.  Some of the character arcs--Cassie, especially--aren't the most plausible and organic, but there's enough good things in Stallone's script to help you overlook some of its dumber elements:  maybe Broker should've found a better storage place for stacks of Bankers Boxes filled with top-secret DEA files than his basement.  More importantly, if he wants to avoid the vengeful biker gang that's vowed revenge for his being a narc, perhaps Phil Broker should be hiding under a more stealthy name than "Phil Broker."

Other than young Vidovic, who seems like a natural and works very well with Statham, nobody really stretches their talents here, though the idea of Franco as the bad guy in a Jason Statham action movie works better than it sounds.  Workaholic Franco (who has 12 IMDb credits for 2013 and ten for 2014) seems like an actor who will try every kind of movie once, and he handles the stock bad guy role well.  There was a time when the idea of Ryder taking a supporting role in a macho action flick would've seemed unthinkable.  Her career may not be where it once was, but she brings some credibility to the proceedings, and it's a nice to see her and Franco working together in a real movie after their LETTER triumph from last year.  A frighteningly thin Bosworth doesn't have a lot to do after the initial plot set-up, but she really nails the bad-tempered, chip-on-her-shoulder, pissed-off-about-everything nature of her character.  Director Gary Fleder (THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD, KISS THE GIRLS, DON'T SAY A WORD, RUNAWAY JURY) isn't really an "action" guy but he's in journeyman mode here, and gets the job done for the most part, except for a couple of unfortunate instances of shaky-cam and one dubious CGI car roll courtesy of executive producer Avi Lerner's usual Bulgarian clown crew at Worldwide FX.

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