At the premiere of “Homefront” in Las Vegas last week, Jason Statham told Minnesota author Chuck Logan, on whose book the script is based, that he was hoping to expand his action-flick body of work to include more dramatic roles. If this attempt, in which he plays an ex-DEA agent and single father facing off against a drug dealer (James Franco) and sundry other thugs, is any example, he’s got a bit more work to do.
That’s not necessarily his fault. To alternate fistfights and gunplay with paternal tenderness is a tall order for any action movie, and to do so without slowing things down is nearly impossible. Sylvester Stallone, who adapted the screenplay as a vehicle for himself before ceding the role to the younger Statham, might have tried to pull off too much. But he stays true to the modern action-movie-as-video-game mantra: Violence strangles the softie stuff and shoves it out of the way.
Statham plays Phil Broker, a DEA agent and recent widower who retires with his 10-year-old daughter Maddie (promising newcomer Izabela Vidovic) to a small town in Louisiana. But first, in the movie’s high-octane, road-chase opener, he makes a formidable enemy by killing a mob boss’ son, and now hopes to keep a low profile. That plan goes kaput after Maddie, who’s been taught a thing or two about self-defense, takes down a schoolyard bully. This sets in motion a grudge match between the Brokers and local lowlifes, including meth dealer Gator Bodine (James Franco) and his sister (Kate Bosworth), who is also the bully’s mom.
When he’s not singlehandedly flattening a passel of lugs at a gas station or blowing up meth labs, Broker is riding horses through peaceful greenery with his kid, boomeranging from indiscriminate cranium crusher to adoring daddy. When his cover is blown, a posse of assassins is sent down to take him out.
Omar Benson Miller is amiably memorable in the role of Wise Loyal Black Friend (though this Southern backwater is strangely lacking in other African-American residents). As a biker-chick henchwoman to the revenge plan, Winona Ryder is somewhat wasted, but Bosworth turns in the most layered performance (and leanest abs) of the entire cast, adding a conflicted soul to her trashy exterior. Too bad Franco, a good actor who’s demonstrated wide range, doesn’t milk more fun from his broadly drawn character, which practically begs him to flash his trademark smirk.
Director Gary Fleder has worked with more sophisticated story lines, notably “Runaway Jury,” but here he opts to flex some fight-scene prowess, with visually muddy results. Still, “Homefront” is a serviceable Thanksgiving-weekend flick pick for escapists who’d rather allow Statham to vicariously relieve their holiday stress than sit through an Oscar-bait weeper.