Some higher profile names than you might expect grace Jason Statham's latest outing as a lead. Produced and written (some time ago) by none other than Expendables
stablemate Sylvester Stallone, Homefront
is bolstered by an eclectic supporting cast that includes James Franco and Winona Ryder. Make no mistake though, this is still a typical Statham action movie at heart, and all the better for it.
Pulling his gruff but likeable persona into play once more, Statham stars as the improbably named DEA agent Phil Broker. The recently widowed Broker is lying low in the Louisiana countryside with his daughter, after being outed as a snitch whilst working undercover in a drug-dealing biker gang. No sooner has he settled into his new home than his life is put under threat by some troublesome rednecks who land him under the nose of James Franco's local meth cook, Gator. Before you can say 'born on the bayou' there's all manner of upset going down; a bruising and bloody gas station altercation, a kidnapped kitten, slashed tires, and much hillbilly posturing. Really, it's just another spin on the outsider who ruffles feathers in a local community and then fights back when pushed too far, often to the community's ultimate benefit; see everything from Straw Dogs (1971) to On Deadly Ground (1994).
The atmospheric deep south locations are well shot, with a hazy otherworldliness to them. As a setting for an almighty showdown it put me in mind of Hard Target (1993) - there's even that old John Woo favourite of the motorcycle-as-explosive-device. And whilst director Gary Fleder doesn't have the flair of Woo, he does direct with a sure hand and the all-important fight scenes are brutally effective. Whilst Statham's previous foray into child bonding in Safe was an awkward affair, here, as a father, he equips himself well and the parent/ child dynamic works. It's even quite charming at times with Isabella Vidovic (as Broker's daughter) scoring points for being both refreshingly ballsy and vulnerable without resorting to incessant screaming. Ryder is serviceable as Gator's meth-head girlfriend, and Franco is an enjoyable deviation from the rent-a-thug cartoon bad guy the role could have turned into.
As always, what makes Statham such a pleasure to watch, and root for, is his absolute commitment to the part. Whether it's the calmer moments with his daughter or the action sequences, you never get a feeling the guy is giving anything less than 100%. And this with not a hint of irony, even when sporting a ludicrous hair piece during the opening 10 minutes. His delivery is entirely straight despite some comic moments (intentional and not). As a result Homefront remains an enjoyably simple action thriller (remember that genre?), rather than descending into winking self-parody. And for that alone, the whole endeavour should be praised.
It's easy for cynical audience laughter to blight these genre movies, and you may well be tired of this schtick (as theatrical takings for recent Statham-led flicks bear out). But take it on its own terms and there's an integrity to Homefront, and to Statham's perpetuation of the old-school, tough guy action hero, which I very much hope continues for a good while yet.
Homefront opens today in North America, and in UK cinemas on December 6 through Lionsgate.
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