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Braking Bad

MOVIE REVIEW
Homefront (2013)

Homefront-movie-review-jason-statham-james-franco-winona-ryder
Justin Lubin/Open Road Films

In many ways a movie is all about timing. What seems like a good hook when a script begins doing the rounds can lose its freshness by the time it makes the screen. And of course the trouble is television has gotten so good lately, it can be almost impossible for movies to keep completely separate identities. But “Homefront” is particularly unlucky, since it comes across as a mash-up of the two most distinctive settings of recent long-form television: “Breaking Bad” set in the world of “True Blood.”

Widower-with-secrets Phil Broker (Jason Statham) has recently arrived in upstate Louisiana with a tough 9-year-old daughter, Maddy (Izabela Vukovic). At the beginning of her school year, she punches a bully, whose unpleasant mother, Cassie (Kate Bosworth) is furious and calls on her brother, Gator (James Franco), to teach the new family a lesson. Well, as it happens Gator is the local meth dealer, and one who fancies himself a cut above your average criminal enterprise. His on-off tweaker girlfriend, Sheryl (an excellent Winona Ryder, whose reinvention of herself is complete) is a waitress in a bar in Shreveport — no word on whether the manager can come out in daytime or not — and an associate of some seriously frightening criminal biker gangs. My goodness, what will happen next?

Actually, we know exactly what will happen next, since a pre-credit sequence shows us Broker’s secrets and awkwardly sets up the rest of the plot. Not moving that sequence to a flashback after the fight at the gas station is an unforgivable mistake. Overall Gary Fleder’s direction and Sylvester Stallone’s script is at best sloppy like that and at worst downright offensive. For example, Broker’s only friend in town is a magical negro named Tito (Omar Benson Miller, doing as much as he possibly can with the part). But what’s almost worse than this idiotic racism is the dumbness. We’re meant to believe that not only does Broker leave his house unlocked, but that — in the midst of a leisurely break-in — Gator is able to search a cluttered basement and directly lay hands on the exact thing necessary to drive the rest of the plot.

In return, Broker commits an equally relaxed break-in at Gator’s wholly unsecured meth lab. Not a security camera or a locked door in sight! Although, since it’s Mr. Statham, we know there is soon going to be some asses that need to be kicked. Mr. Statham is marvelous as always, but the fights manage to be unpleasantly gory, not least because the sound effects are cranked up to 11. Mr. Stallone also gives Mr. Statham some one-liners that sadly all fall flat. The worst example of this is in final confrontation, where what should have been a moment of glorious revenge is merely extremely funny.

Mr. Franco walks off with the film, as a smart man doing very dumb things but trying hard to be smart about it. The moment where Gator stares at Sheryl and asks, “Are you retarded?” is simply perfection. And what makes the movie interesting is everyone’s treatment of Maddy, who unfortunately gets caught up in the chaos. Even though Gator is a bad man — and he and Sheryl do not blink when it comes to making some truly villainous choices, their concern for the safety and innocence of a child is something we don’t often see on screen.

We haven’t often seen Mr. Statham holding stuffed animals and reading a little girl a bedtime story, either. And the entire sequence where he is on the hunt for her missing cat is worth the price of admission by itself. Mr. Statham has gone on the record saying that he’d happily do a romantic comedy if only someone would offer him one. Hollywood, that’s something we haven’t seen before. Please, please make it happen.

HOMEFRONT

Opens on Nov. 27 in the United States and on Dec. 6 in Britain.

Directed by Gary Fleder; written by Sylvester Stallone, based on the novel by Chuck Logan; director of photography, Theo van de Sande; edited by Pat McKinley; music by Mark Isham; production design by Greg Berry; costumes by Kelli Jones; produced by Mr. Stallone, Kevin King-Templeton and John Thompson; released by Open Road (United States) and Lionsgate (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Jason Statham (Phil Broker), James Franco (Gator Bodine), Kate Bosworth (Cassie Klum), Winona Ryder (Sheryl Mott), Frank Grillo (Cyrus), Izabela Vidovic (Maddy Broker), Rachelle Lefevre (Susan) and Omar Miller (Teedo).

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