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Given that over the past twelve months he’s played everything from the wizard of Oz and Hugh Hefner to Spring Breakers’ “Alien” and himself in This Is the End, it’s tough to speculate about how James Franco chooses his film roles. But it would be easy to believe that he agreed to play the swamp rat drug dealer in Homefront just for the opportunity it provides for him to bellow out his character’s memorable name, as in “My name is Gator Bodine!!!” Franco clearly relishes the handle, which is more than most people will feel about this trashy, manipulative, by-the-numbers crime drama in which Jason Statham wrestles with both Gator and an American accent. The Open Road entry will have to make its score very quickly upon Nov. 27 release before being crowded out of the marketplace by more high-profile year-end titles.
The ham-fisted script, based on a novel by Chuck Logan, was written some years ago by none other than Sylvester Stallone as a prospective final chapter to the Rambo saga. The way it’s turned out here is more reminiscent of some bad good-ol’-boy 1976 melodrama that could have starred Jan-Michael Vincent and Joe Don Baker and involved rednecks mightily suspicious of the outsider who’s come to live in their midst.
The boiler-plate opening action scene isn’t bad, as undercover DEA agent Phil Broker (Statham in a wig) spearheads a bust of a big city drug lab. The whole joint blows up and when the big boss is led away by the cops, he gets off a promise to Broker that sets the tone for most of the film’s dialogue: “Your kids are f—— dead.”
A couple of years later, Broker is living with his bright young 10-year-old daughter Maddy (Isabela Vidovic) in rural Rayville, LA (a real town, conveniently just down the road a piece from that Hollywood of the South, Shreveport). Her mother having died the year before, Maddy has been receiving self-defense tips from her macho Dad, and while he’s trying to figure out whether to settle on an East End or Southern accent, she retaliates to bullying from a schoolyard fatso by punching him out.
Fatso’s skinny mother Cassie (Kate Bosworth) doesn’t cotton to this at all, even though her kid started it, and when she can’t get her no-account husband (Frank Grillo) to exact justice, she sics her brother Gator on Broker, which means trouble since Gator is the meanest and wiliest creature in the bayou as well as its most prolific drug dealer.
Since his house sits vulnerably in the middle of nowhere and the locals clearly haven’t been taught how to let go of a grudge–”Can’t you go over there and do something!?” Cassie screams at her brother—Broker mans up and apologizes for his daughter’s brutality. The down-home boys respond to this gentlemanliness by repeatedly trying to beat Broker up. This results in a succession of fight scenes—always with multiple guys ganging up on him–so incoherently staged and shot that you don’t even get a clear view of Statham doing what he does best, which is to roll his kick-boxing, martial arts and punching skills into entertainingly bone-crunching mayhem.
Stallone’s milking of the child endangerment angle is shameless; this is script-writing by diagram, with Cassie and her clan blowing everything preposterously out of proportion just to create a melodramatic threat that will rouse Broker to action in protecting his daughter. Most of the baddies are such bottom-feeders that you know they pose no real threat and that includes Winona Ryder’s former biker girl who gets roped into the plot against the two interlopers.
Homefront is sufficiently silly and low-down to be entertaining on a certain marginal level, but it wouldn’t appear that those involved, with the possible exception of Franco, approached this with the idea that they might be making good trash; it looks too elaborate and costly for that and the script exhibits no self-aware humor. So when real peril arrives for Broker and Maddy, it just feels as though the computer has rotely delivered the pre-programmed climactic scenes that have been indicated from close to the beginning.
Aside from the messy action scenes, the film has a professional look and the actors generally supply ample juice playing over-excitable characters. Only Statham isn’t allowed to join in the fun, obliged as he is to remain in stolid, stalwart mode while everyone goes ballistic around him.
Opens: November 27 (Open Road)
Production: Open Road Films, Endgame Entertainment, Millennium Films
Cast: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Rachelle Lefevre, Frank Grillo, Clancy Brown, Izabela Vidovic
Director: Gary Fleder
Screenwriter: Sylvester Stallone, based on the novel by Chuck Logan
Producers: John Thompson, Kevin King-Templeton, Sylvester Stallone
Executive producers: James D. Stern, Douglas E. Hansen, Avi Lerner, Boaz Davidson, Rene Besson, Mark Gill, Trevor Short
Director of photography: Theo Van de Sande
Production designer: Greg Berry
Costume designer: Kelli Jones
Editor: Pat McKinley
Music: Mark Isham
R rating, 100 minutes
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