Film Review: Homefront

Undercover cop finds trouble when he leaves the city for rural Louisiana. Strong cast lifts a B-movie vehicle for Jason Statham.

Despite some unexpected faces, it's pretty much business as usual in Homefront, the latest Jason Statham outing. A conscious effort to expand the star's fan base, the movie is more low-key than his usual revenge thrillers. That's a mixed blessing, as followers may resent his softer image, while newcomers could complain that this is just an old-fashioned B-movie.

The brisk opening puts undercover cop Phil Broker (Jason Statham) on the wrong side of a New Orleans gang when a sting results in the death of a drug kingpin's son. The widowed Broker retreats to the idyllic small town of Rayville, in part to forge a better relationship with his young daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic). A chip off the old block, Maddy gets into trouble at school when she faces down a bully.

Under its rural surface, Rayville suffers from many big-city ills. Chief among them is Gator Bodine (James Franco), an ambitious meth dealer trying to expand his operations. His sister Cassie (Kate Bosworth) happens to be the mother of the school bully, as well as a trouble-making meth addict. She forces Gator to confront Broker. When his minions are beaten up, Gator breaks into Broker's house, discovering the cop's true identity and gaining a bargaining chip with the New Orleans gang.

Homefront builds up steam slowly as Broker and Gator circle each other warily. Neither wants a fight, neither will back down. But Cassie wants blood—or something. In Bosworth's fine portrayal, she's all aggrieved anger and addict's tics, liable to turn on anyone.

Broker already has the local sheriff (Clancy Brown) suspicious, and when he stumbles across Gator's meth lab, he knows the cop is on the dealer's payroll. But when Maddy is threatened, Broker isn't sure who's responsible: Gator, Cassie, the New Orleans gang, or someone else. Gator, meanwhile, unleashes more than he can control when he calls Sheryl (Winona Ryder), his gang contact.

Franco seems a bit remote as a vicious meth dealer, although he nails Gator's disgust with his sister in particular and everyone else in Rayville. His presence, along with Ryder and Bosworth, indicates that the producers had more in mind than a mindless action flick. The real wild card here turns out to be Sylvester Stallone, who wrote the screenplay from a 2006 Chuck Logan novel.

The premise of Homefront is compelling, and the script takes meth's corrupting influence seriously. But Stallone's plotting is mired in the 1970s. The sensibility here is Straw Dogs or Death Wish, not the ambiguity and psychotic drive of something like "Breaking Bad." Stallone keeps trying to justify Broker by giving him more and more reasons for revenge, in the process making violence the story's only practical solution.

As an action star, Statham has more physical authority and presence than just about any of his peers. Broker, a widowed dad who dispenses teary advice, does not play to his strengths, however. Uncomfortable in his sensitive scenes, Statham's also deprived of his usual action moves. Like Homefront itself, he's caught somewhere between serious drama and making a buck.