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‘Homefront’: Too many silly twists in Jason Statham thriller

A widowed Drug Enforcement Administratiagent (JasStatham) hopes for calm small-town life with his daughter (IzabelVidovic) “Homefront.”  |  Open

A widowed Drug Enforcement Administration agent (Jason Statham) hopes for a calm, small-town life with his daughter (Izabela Vidovic) in “Homefront.” | Open Road photo

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Phil Jason Statham

Gator James Franco

Sheryl Winona Ryder

Cassie Kate Bosworth

Open Road presents a film directed by Gary Fleder and written by Sylvester Stallone, based on the book by Chuck Logan. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated R (for strong violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief sexuality). Opens Wednesday at local theaters.

Updated: December 26, 2013 6:11AM

Like Chuck Norris and The Most Interesting Man in the World, Jason Statham should have his own badder-than-badass mythology.

When Freddy Krueger goes to sleep at night, he has nightmares about getting into a fight with Jason Statham.

That sort of thing.

I’ve been waiting for Statham to reach the crossover, big-time movie star status achieved by previous action heroes such as Stallone, Gibson, Schwarzenegger and Willis, but I’m not sure it’s ever going to happen. Statham’s done some quality films, from “The Transporter” to “Snatch” to “The Italian Job” to “The Bank Job”— but some 15 years into his career, he’s still making a lot of B-level action movies as well.

Which brings us to “Homefront.”

This is a well-made thriller traveling over awfully familiar turf, and of course we get a number of scenes where one or three or seven bad guys sneer overconfidently as they approach Statham, and we start laughing because we know they’re about three minutes away from clutching their broken noses or busted wrists, coughing up blood as they fall to their knees. This is the kind of R-rated action movie in which you’re SUPPOSED to laugh when a thug leans in too close when Statham is tied to a chair, because (SPOILER ALERT FOR ANYONE WHO HASN’T SEEN A THRILLER SINCE 1978) we know the head-butt is coming.

What we don’t get is a fully realized movie, with characters that surprise us or plot turns we don’t see coming a mile away or creatively menacing villains who at least have a fighting chance against the star of the movie.

Statham plays Phil Broker, a widowed ex-DEA agent with his adorable 10-year-old daughter Maddie (Izabel Vidovic), in a sleepy Louisiana town not far from where Phil’s wife grew up. (Based on the sheer number of widowed coppers, Interpol agents, detectives, etc., in the movies, there must be an actual market for actresses who play “Dead Wife Seen Only in Still Photographs or on Home Videos.”)

A playground skirmish in which Maddie uses some mini-Statham moves to take down a bully sets off a chain of events that leads to Phil having to defend himself against increasingly dangerous foes. If only Maddie had used her words!

Director Gary Fleder (“Kiss the Girls,” “Runaway Jury,” “Don’t Say a Word”) knows his way around this kind of material. “Homefront” is a well-made film, with some nice little jump cuts and some slick fight scenes. And the screenplay, written by none other than Sylvester Stallone (adapting Chuck Logan’s novel) has some salt in it, e.g., when one bad guy taunts Phil by asking him if he’s trying to think of something clever and says he “can smell the wood burning” in Phil’s brain.

At first it feels as if “Homefront” is going to be all about the local rednecks going after Phil and his daughter, but then there’s a ludicrous twist where a certain foe learns about Phil’s past in a way that makes Phil look stupid and careless, and he’s neither of those two. That twist provides the ammunition for an extremely convenient coincidence — and that’s when “Homefront” flies off the rails.

There’s good work here. Thin almost beyond recognition, Kate Bosworth is outstanding as the drug-addled mom of the schoolyard bully. She wants revenge against Phil and Maddie, but has second thoughts when things escalate to the point where guns are involved and a child could be hurt.

James Franco plays Bosworth’s brother, a meth lab operator and all-around violent head case who goes by the name of Gator. Franco looks awfully healthy for someone playing a tweaking swamp rat, and he plays Gator as more funny-crazy than scary-crazy. (And Franco already did funny-crazy to much better effect in “Spring Breakers.”) Franco’s a huge talent, but not right for this part.

The terrific actor Frank Grillo plays a particularly nasty psychopath. And look, there’s Winona Ryder as Gator’s sort-of girlfriend, who’s a complete mess. There’s no shortage of interesting actors, even in the smaller parts.

But come on. At one point in this film, Statham’s main opponents are James Franco and Winona Ryder. What are they going to do, multi-generational indie-film act him to death?

From the moment when Phil puts down a local no-good who tries to attack him from behind — puts him down in spectacularly lethal fashion — you’d think even the nastiest of the townsfolk would be signing a petition to give Phil the key to the city. Watching these dopes continue to go after him when all common sense would suggest otherwise makes you feel as if you could leave the movie, go to the bathroom, get some popcorn, make a phone call and finally return to your seat — without any fear you missed anything special.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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