News Column

All (not) quiet on this "Homefront"

November 29, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 29--As counterprogramming aimed at basic action fans, "Homefront" is all it is meant to be -- fast, boisterous and excessive.

It is the seventh feature film directed by Gary Fleder since he left Norfolk in 1981 as a Norfolk Collegiate graduate wearing a T-shirt that read "All I Want to Do Is Direct." Since then, his projects have included "Runaway Jury," "Kiss the Girls" and the most recent, the football drama "The Express."

"Homefront" is no more than a vehicle for the steel-eyed British action star Jason Statham, who has emerged as a more believable action hero than any of his American rivals in the medium-budget genre.

His trademark is a machismo scowl, a bald head and a persistent 5 o'clock shadow -- all of which suggest, "Don't mess with me." Women, in his films, are usually playthings to be used and discarded.

He is, in a way, a throwback to the old studio system when you knew what to expect from a John Wayne or a Clark Gable movie. While other actors try not to be type-cast, Statham knows his audience and serves it. They should turn out in force for this.

The script was adapted by Sylvester Stallone from a novel by crime writer Chuck Logan -- one in a series featuring the character of ex-Minnesota cop Phil Broker. Before you write off Stallone, remember that he is an Academy Award-winning writer for "Rocky." That, though, was a long time ago.

In "Homefront," Fleder tries to humanize the Statham character -- a bit. The former DEA officer is seeking a quiet, rural life outside New Orleans after his cover is blown in a noisy opening. In that same scene, the son of a big-time crime boss is killed -- making Broker a marked man. It's only a matter of time until the mob finds him, but you can bet he's going to kick butt. In one unlikely scene, Statham even prevails over awesome odds with one hand tied.

James Franco, in what appears to be a headlong dash to avoid mainstream stardom, again plays a weirdo of excessive mannerisms as a hustler who surely is going to rat out Statham to the bad guys. After "Spider-Man" and hosting the Oscars, Franco refused to be written off as just another pretty boy. In the best of worlds, he could have a career of crafty rebel roles similar to the repertoire of Johnny Depp. This isn't the best of worlds.

Kate Bosworth is his lowlife sister -- a drug addict who sets off an alarm when her bullying kid is knocked out on the playground by Statham's character's feisty 10-year-old daughter. (She's played by a particularly likable child actor named Izabela Vidovic).

Bosworth played the ultra-nice Sandra Dee not so long ago opposite Kevin Spacey in 2004's "Beyond the Sea." She tests the theory here that when a good girl goes bad, critics begin thinking she can act. Here, she's more emaciated than dramatic. In any case, quite a change.

Winona Ryder is also in the cast as a fun kind of gun moll for the new age.

The movie's greatest fault is that the action scenes are blurred to the point that the moves aren't discernible. It happens often in such films, but it shouldn't happen here.

Mal Vincent, 757-446-2347, mal.vincent@pilotonline.com

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"HOMEFRONT"

Cast Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth

Director Gary Fleder

Screenplay Sylvester Stallone, based on the novel by Chuck Logan

Music Mark Isham

MPAA rating R (violence, language, brief sexuality)

Mal's rating 2 1/2 stars

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(c)2013 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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