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Movie Review: "Homefront"

popcorn-movie1 logoBY VAN ROBERTS

Don’t let the title of the latest Jason Statham actioneer “Homefront” (*** OUT OF ****) deceive you.  This is no soap opera about life in the boondocks.  “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead” director Gary Fleder and “Cobra” scenarist Sylvester Stallone should have entitled it “Hell On A Bayou.”  This exciting but formulaic revenge thriller pits a retired DEA agent against a murderous bunch of bikers and rednecks who resemble the hellions in the “Sons of Anarchy” television series.  Naturally, Statham plays the conscientious DEA agent who witnessed a gross miscarriage of justice that his superior defended as ‘protocol.’  After an explosive drug bust at a New Orleans’ nightclub, our undercover hero’s brothers-in-blue mow down a clueless biker in a fusillade of gunfire.  Apparently, they suspected that the poor slob was reaching for a concealed weapon after being warned against such a move.  The blood-splattered experience sickened our protagonist enough that he resigned from the agency and settled down in a remote Louisiana town to raise his young daughter.  While he sought to put as much distance between his past as he could, our protagonist doesn’t realize that escaping his bullet-riddled past is easier said than done.  Basically, “Homefront” resembles a witness relocation thriller, except the hero here is a cop rather than an eye-witness.  Stallone adapted Chuck Logan’s novel, but the filmmakers have changed the setting from Minnesota to Louisiana.  A former Vietnam veteran, Logan has published eight novels about ex-lawman Phil Broker, and “Homefront” hit the book racks back in 2009.  Indeed, “Homefront” provides Statham with an ideal vehicle.  The rural setting and dastardly villains reminded me of the Elmore Leonard TV show “Justified.”  Co-stars James Franco, Winona Ryder, Clancy Brown, Kate Bosworth, and Frank Grillo constitute a first-class cast for this gritty, hard-boiled, methamphetamine melodrama.
Everything goes wrong for our hero when his nine-year old daughter Maddy (newcomer Izabela Vidovic) picks on the wrong bully at her elementary school. Fat Teddy Klum (Austin Craig) not only steals Maddy’s baseball cap, but he also terrorizes the willowy little darling on the playground.  Maddy warns Teddy twice to hand her cap back, but Teddy chuckles contemptuously at the defiant little waif.  Imagine Teddy’s surprise when Maddy socks him in the snout and knocks him on his obese butt!  Phil Broker (Jason Statham of “Safe”) is remodeling a house with his African-American partner Teedo (Omar Benson Miller of “8 Mile”) when he receives a call from the Rayville Elementary School.  School psychologist Susan Hetch (Rachelle Lefevre of “Twilight”) briefs Broker about the Homefront Posterincident, and Sheriff Keith Rodrigue (Clancy Brown of “Highlander”) struggles to keep Teddy’s mom Cassie Bodine Klum (Kate Bosworth of “Straw Dogs”) off Broker’s back.  When she cannot slap Broker around, Cassie incites her husband Jimmy (Marcus Hester of “Lawless”) to rough him up.  Broker puts Jimmy out of action with the ease of a kung fu master, and the sheriff wonders where our hero got his training.  Later, Cassie resorts to her scumbag brother, Gator (James Franco of “Spring Breakers”), to take care of Broker.  Teedo warns Broker that Gator operates a local meth factory and discourages any competitors by informing on them to Sheriff Rodrigue.  Gator burglarizes Broker’s remote house in the middle of the woods and stumbles upon Broker’s files from his DEA days.  Moreover, he discovers Broker was the anonymous snitch that sent Outcast motorcycle gang member Danny T Turrie (Chuck Zito of “Carlito’s Way”) to prison and put the first of the 47 bullets into Danny’s worthless son Jojo (Linds Edwards) on the street in New Orleans.  Gator concocts a hare-brained scheme with low-life waitress Sheryl Marie Mott (Winona Ryder of “Heathers”) to alert the Outcasts about Broker’s whereabouts.  Gator dreams in his naive mind that the Outcasts will repay him for his friendly little tip by helping him distribute his meth.  Outcast motorcycle chieftain Cyrus Hanks (Frank Grillo of “Disconnect”) and his best bangers cruise into Rayville with payback loaded in their pistols. Meanwhile, our hero realizes that he is living in a land where feuding is a way of life.  At the last minute, after Gator has stolen Maddy’s pet kitten named Luther, Broker smells the stench of murder in the air and tries to clear out.  Unfortunately, our hero doesn’t get far before he discovers that his daughter and he are surrounded with no way out.
Mind you, “Homefront” would be just another routine but entertaining shoot’em up, but director Gary Fleder has assembled a knock-out cast of celebrity talent and orchestrated some bone-crunching action scenes.  James Franco plays Statham’s grinning redneck adversary with gusto.  At one point, he chides Phil Broker because our hero doesn’t “smell the wood burning” and “cannot connect the dots.”  Winona Ryder gives an electrifying performance as Gator’s skanky accomplice who served time for smuggling narcotics into Angola Prison.  Topping both Franco and Ryder is sexy Kate Bosworth of “Straw Dogs” and “Blue Crush” as a housewife hooked on meth who ridicules her husband mercilessly into doing what she cannot.  Seasoned character actor Clancy Brown emerges from the background as a corrupt local sheriff who behaves with more discretion than the usual paid-off politician.  Essentially, nobody gives a bad performance in “Homefront,” and the children are incredibly convincing, too.  Of course, Fleder and Stallone shoot the works, and Statham displays his usual physical prowess.  Basically, if you enjoy watching the “Transporter” star kick the crap out of his antagonists after they threaten his daughter, you’ll enjoy “Homefront.”  The close encounter combat sequence between our hero and two stooges at a local gas station is hilariously violent.  Statham is the new Steven Segal with the effortless aplomb with which he dispatches his opponents.  Dutch lenser Theo van de Sande’s cinematography of the swampy Louisiana locations is simply elegant; for the record, Sande photographed the Wesley Snipes vampire opus “Blade.”  Clocking in at a nimble 100 minutes, “Homefront” never wears out its welcome.

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