Lean, Mean Menace

Jason Statham takes usual role of scruffy badass 
with a heart of gold, but supporting cast elevates flick


With Sylvester Stallone providing the screenplay and Jason Statham playing the hero, we pretty much know what's in store for us in "Homefront." Never a master of subtlety, either in his writing or his acting, Stallone wields predictability like a sledgehammer in his newest effort, leaving us with little in the way of suspense or surprise, at least in terms of plot. Everything eventually works out for just about everyone in the movie, just about the way you might expect.

Nonetheless — and surprisingly so — the movie is also more fun than you might expect. In fact, "Homefront" is one of the better Statham action flicks, even though he's about the same as usual — a lean, mean badass with a cultivated unshaven look and a heart of gold for those who need him. This time, just like in "Safe" last year, it's a young girl. Pity the poor morons who try to mess with her.

However, the new film rises above the clichés in some details, mostly associated with the supporting characters who do manage to break a bit from the otherwise hackneyed script. While Statham has little more to do than kick ass and look cool, he manages both with aplomb and conviction. The supporting cast members get a chance to chew the scenery and elevate the flick above the average action movie, even if only slightly so.

An opening sequence establishes the vengeance plot, which has little to do with the rest of the movie until the slam-bang conclusion. Posing as a member of a greasy biker gang that's into big-time meth production and distribution, DEA agent Phil Broker (Statham in a dreadful long-haired wig) inadvertently causes the death of the boss man's son. Gang leader Danny T (Chuck Zito) is apprehended, but naturally he swears revenge. A year or so later, Broker has resigned from the agency and moved to a small Louisiana homestead to raise his young daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) in peace and quiet after the death of her mother. That's not going to happen, because this is a Jason Statham flick and just about everyone else in town — except for cute schoolteacher Susan (Rachelle Lefevre) — is one degree or other of white trash.

And guess what? There's yet another local meth dealer in town, one Gator Bodine (James Franco), with strung-out sister Cassie (Kate Bosworth) and skanky girlfriend Sheryl (Winona Ryder), none of whom take kindly to the new guy with the bald head and funny accent. However, after his goons get their heads and other body parts rearranged by Broker, Gator discovers Broker's ties to the DEA and promptly notifies the ex-fed's old nemesis, now serving time behind bars. Soon, a posse of greasy, ruthless bikers is on its way for a visit, with less than honorable intentions concerning our hero.

Counting "Fast and Furious 6" (in which he makes an uncredited appearance), "Homefront" is Statham's fourth movie of 2013. You have to give it to the guy — he has both stamina and appeal. Though he's seldom had to evince much dramatic range in any of his movies, he nonetheless radiates a certain charisma that has less to do with muscles and swagger (like Stallone or Schwarzenegger) than with quiet, lean menace (like a much younger, much slimmer Steven Seagal).

The bad guys in "Homefront" and some of the ones on the periphery are particularly noteworthy. The multi-talented Franco is fun to watch as always, but the most noticeable performance is that of the alarmingly thin, nearly unrecognizable Bosworth as his druggie sister. Not typical for movies like this, her character actually undergoes a substantive change, as does her unappealing son. The same goes for the always-watchable Clancy Brown as the local sheriff. And having Ryder as the slutty bad girl is just … well, unexpectedly weird. Touches like these add considerable flavor and interest to the otherwise predictable plot.

Director Gary Fleder ("Runaway Jury" and "Kiss the Girls") orchestrates the action sequences with flair, doing his best with Stallone's hokey, sentimental moments, most of them involving Maddy. Given the material, that's about as good as anyone could hope for. 

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