Review: 'Homefront'

(Three stars)

Standard Statham action gets a solid acting boost courtesy of James Franco in the Louisiana-based "Homefront." We can put this in the "co-stars you thought you would never see" category.

British jaw-breaker Jason Statham and Palo Alto native Franco square off in a small southern town, Statham's ex-DEA agent versus Franco's meth-dealing dirtbag. And while the film periodically feels predictable and formulaic, Franco's gritty portrayal coupled with Statham's fighting skills make "Homefront" a worthwhile cinematic escape.

Phil Broker (Statham) and his young daughter, Maddy (Izabela Vidovic, outperforming her age), are living the quiet life in Louisiana. Broker's career as an undercover DEA agent was cut short following the messy bust of a drug-pedaling biker gang, and now anonymity is his greatest ally. But when Maddy puts a licking on a school bully and angers the youngster's addict mother Cassie (an almost unrecognizable Kate Bosworth), Phil gets caught in the crossfire.

Cassie turns to her ne'er-do-well brother, Gator (Franco), to put a little scare into Phil. And Gator being the area's meth-making head honcho has plenty of loathsome friends to help. To make matters worse, Gator quickly uncovers the truth about Phil's furtive past, and soon old enemies are rearing their ugly heads. Phil will have to protect his daughter and his home with every uppercut, wheel kick and arm lock he has in his arsenal.

"Homefront" presents one of the more unusual collaborations of recent memory, with Statham and Franco working off a screenplay by Rambo himself, Sylvester Stallone. Fortunately for the viewer, it all seems to work. Stallone's script (based on the novel by Chuck Logan) is sharp, and the film moves at a smooth pace. Franco is particularly good in the acting department and his presence alone seems to elevate those around him, especially Statham, who may deliver his best performance yet. And Statham continues to showcase the talents that have made him the most bankable martial-arts star of the past 15 years.

The weak link comes in the form of Winona Ryder as Gator's strung-out girlfriend. While Ryder certainly looks the part, her delivery is erratic and she doesn't immerse herself in the role with the same gusto as Franco and Bosworth.

There is a certain seediness to the happenings here, darkened by the abundance of meth use, so don't expect a blithe, uplifting tone. The bayou backdrop sparks comparisons to similar Big Easy actioners such as Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Hard Target" (1993), though "Homefront" has more in common with Patrick Swayze's family-grudge thriller "Next of Kin" (1989).

Ultimately, this unlikely teaming of Statham and Franco proves to be a clever blend of action and acting. And the production values are strong throughout, especially in the sound department, so every bone-cracking punch has a little extra emphasis.

Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief sexuality. One hour, 40 minutes.


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