'Homefront,' written by Sly Stallone, wobbles like punch-drunk boxer

The Fresno BeeNovember 25, 2013 

James Franco in "Homefront."

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The script for "Homefront" was written by Sylvester Stallone, but it comes across like it was penned by Rocky Balboa.

It's a punch-drunk story that wobbles between a family film and an over-the-top action movie that fails to utilize the best parts of either. The knockout punch is a plot element that's so ludicrous the rest of the film moves along on wobbly knees.

Jason Statham, the best screen mumbler since Stallone, plays Phil Broker (doesn't that sound like a perfect name for a bartender?), a former DEA agent who has moved to the creepy, sleepy town of Rayville, La. Since the death of his wife two years ago, he's looking for a quieter place to raise his 9-year-old daughter.

He picked the wrong town.

A schoolyard scrap between Broker's daughter and a bully begins a series of events that eventually leads to a battle between the DEA agent and some standard movie thugs full of typical beatings, shootings and bone snapping. Statham's very adept at the physical part. It's all of the emotional parts that leave him needing a standing eight count.

But Statham's lack of acting skills is the least of this film's problems. Most glaring is the script, especially the key element needed to keep the film moving ahead. This isn't a spoiler, but if Broker is supposed to be such a first-rate DEA agent, he wouldn't make a mistake like leaving clues to his past in obvious locations. The only thing more blatant would be to have the 9-year-old wear a shirt that says "My Dad's a Narc."

The casting is hit and miss. But, when it hits, the punch is very solid.

Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder turn in performances that are so riveting they almost save the movie. If this movie had concentrated on these characters rather than the Neanderthals who slap and shoot each other with little reason, "Homefront" would have been an interesting examination into the brutality and sadness of the trailer trash drug world.

Bosworth turns in the best performance of her career playing the burned- out mother of the schoolyard bully. It's not just the haggard look she uses to play the character, it's the evil and bitterness that comes from within that makes the performance so outstanding.

Sadly, the movie keeps shifting back to less interesting characters such as James Franco as the local drug lord who goes by the name Gator. It's impossible to tell if director Gary Fleder was trying to make Gator a mastermind or just have a messed up mind. Franco never finds the insanity that makes such a character scary, nor does he show enough evil intelligence to create fear. He just fills up the space on screen.

Another big sin is the way the 9-year-old is put in danger. Broker's already dealing with people who make and deal drugs, rule a city with fear and use violence as a negotiation tool. Resorting to putting a child in the line of fire is a cheap film ploy.

The result is a paint-by-numbers movie: there's talk, some fighting, more talk and then more fighting. Anything original — other than the performances by Bosworth and Ryder — is accidental.

Movie review

"Homefront," rated R for violence, language, drug use. Star Jason Statham, James Franco, Kate Bosworth, Winona Ryder. Directed by Gary Fleder. Running time: 110 minutes. Grade: D+

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TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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