Homefront (Open Road Films, R)

Homefront 75Homefront is a lot better than it really ought to be.

Homefront 500

Jason Statham is a great action star. He has been in plenty of bad movies, but he has never once been bad in them. He’s incredibly charismatic, managing to be funny, while simultaneously seeming to take himself very seriously. It may feel like he always plays the same role, but he has a strong sense of tone, and he subtly alters his performance to fit the role. Look at the gravity he brings to his character in the remake of The Mechanic, and compare it to the more fun, bro-hanging-out character he plays in the Expendables films. Then look at how perfectly suited he is to the gonzo antics of the Crank movies. And in addition to those acting chops, he’s obviously believable in more intense, physical action scenes. In short, Jason Statham is the shit.

In Homefront, Jason Statham plays Phil Broker, an awesome undercover cop who busts a meth-dealing biker gang. Unfortunately, in the process, the son of the gang’s leader is killed, and so Broker and his young daughter go into hiding in a small town in Louisiana. Unfortunately, that small town seems to be pretty close to the major city where the gang is, because word gets out pretty quick that he’s there. There are some real contrivances that put Broker and his family back into harm’s way, but ultimately, I’m able to forgive it, because Homefront is a lot better than it really ought to be.

A lot of the film’s success can be attributed to the cast. In addition to the Statham, we are also treated to James Franco as the antagonist, Gator Bodine. Franco isn’t going as big as he did in Spring Breakers, but then again, how could he? He manages to have a lot of fun, while also finding a surprising human side to a character named Gator Bodine. Winona Ryder and Kate Bosworth emerge from wherever they’ve been, Bosworth looking disturbingly unhealthy, yet giving the best performance I’ve ever seen from her. Reliable character actors Clancy Brown and Frank Grillo give a little spark to some pretty bland characters. And Izabela Vidovic is remarkably good as Broker’s daughter, who perfectly rides the line between tough and believably scared once the shooting starts. She also looks like she could actually be Statham’s daughter.

I don’t want to sound like I’m over-praising the film, but the script, from Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Sylvester Stallone, has a few layers that I wasn’t expecting. The marketing portrays Gator Bodine and Bosworth as full-on villains, but they aren’t that way in the movie. Bosworth starts out irrationally angry at Statham’s character, but when he takes the time to make things right with her, she relents. Gator only reluctantly gets involved, and the situation quickly gets out of his control. There are also a few cliché character types who don’t exactly go the way you would assume they would. These minor but interesting twists, and the actors’ choices on how to play them, elevate this movie above some of its B-movie brethren.

Homefront is not a classic, but no one will be going into it wanting one. It knows what it has to do, and it does it. The action is brutal and well-staged. There are great scenes of tough guys staring each other down in a vaguely homoerotic way. It’s a Jason Statham movie, and if you like those, it’s probably one of the best. And once more, just for good measure: Gator Bodine. | Sean Lass

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