*** (out of four)
In “Carnage,” a schoolyard argument leads to sparring adults, but verbal attacks and Kate Winslet vomiting on a coffee table don’t quite qualify as a full-blown war.
Things get considerably more heated in “Homefront.” After a young girl defends herself against a bully, the guy’s meth-head mom (an effectively creepy Kate Bosworth) asks her brother, a drug dealer who goes by Gator (James Franco), to rough up the girl’s father, Phil Broker (Jason Statham). Naturally, the drug community of this small Louisiana town doesn’t know that Phil is (of course) an ass-kicking ex-DEA agent who only moved there because it’s where his late wife grew up. When Gator breaks into Phil’s house and discovers his identity, the baddie, a small fish looking to move to larger ponds, attempts to give up his new enemy to a bigger, vengeance-seeking dealer in exchange for increased distribution.
I know: I thought a guy named Gator would be nice and non-shady too. What kind of monster decapitates a stuffed animal?
Unlike many of Statham’s lesser efforts, “Homefront” refrains from maximizing carnage and isn’t about the supposed fun of deadly revenge. Phil’s not even trying to expose the corrupt sheriff (Clancy Brown) or take down a major meth operation. He’s just trying to protect his family, and defense plays a lot better than bloody offense.
Phil’s not trying to change the world, and the movie definitely won’t either. It’s solid and digestible, mostly keeping awkward corniness (like Phil’s daughter discussing her vocabulary word of “grace” and saying she thinks her mom had it) to a minimum. Director Gary Fleder (“Runaway Jury”) provides useful local flavor—shot on location outside New Orleans, “Homefront” has the swampy feel necessary for the story’s depiction of long-held grudges and a neighborhood law that exists outside the law.
Adapting Chuck Logan’s novel, Sylvester Stallone wrote the script and initially planned the project for himself. It’s a good match for Statham, though, allowing him a few soft moments of loss and family when he’s not busting heads. Franco, so fantastically odd as Alien in “Spring Breakers,” makes Gator deliberately inconsistent. Sometimes he’s menacing; sometimes he’s clearly out of his depth.
What rarely falters is a steady, tonally successful depiction of various forms of family-related self-defense and adult bullies who never seem to know they’re beat until it’s too late.
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