Jason Statham exercises great restraint in the opening minutes of “Homefront,” as his character, DEA agent Phil Broker, chooses to shoot an armed bad guy in the leg instead of blowing his brains out.
Really, though, who wants to see Jason Statham exercise restraint? Part of the fun — no, all of the fun — of a Jason Statham movie is winding him up and letting him go. The best of his action movies are ballets of brute force: primal, precise and punishing. “Homefront,” serviceably directed by television veteran Gary Fleder from a script by Sylvester Stallone (based on crime-novelist Chuck Logan’s book), isn’t Statham’s best — or most brutal — work, but it’s not bad.
The windup, in this case, comes after a winding down. Several months after that opening scene, Phil, a recent widower, has retired from police work, moving to small-town Louisiana with his young daughter, Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), to get away from it all.
Boy, did he pick the wrong town.
No sooner have the Brokers unpacked than they’re getting into trouble with the locals, courtesy of Maddy, who decks a schoolyard bully (Austin Craig) one day. As it happens, the bully’s mother (an alarmingly emaciated Kate Bosworth) turns out to be one of the town’s many resident meth-heads. Even worse, Mom is sister to drug lord/psychopath Gator Bodine (James Franco), who isn’t very happy when he learns that his little nephew has a bloody nose.
But he really isn’t happy when he discovers — via a bit of harmless breaking-and-entering — that the father of the girl who gave the kid a bloody nose is an ex-narc.
Say goodbye to restraint. At this point, Gator and his goons start trying to run Phil out of town, which only makes our hero mad. This, of course, is precisely what makes fans of Jason Statham movies happiest.
For the rest of us, it helps that Franco clearly relishes his role as the heavy here, lapping up the part like so much gumbo. The Academy Award nominee makes quite the entrance, pronouncing the name “Gator Bodine” like his tongue is doing a slow Cajun waltz around it, just before applying a baseball bat to the shins of a competitor who has had the temerity to horn in on Gator’s drug business.
And he’s not even the real bad guy.
To help him get rid of Phil, Gator enlists some of Phil’s former enemies, with whom he liaises through the mediation of his ethically challenged biker-groupie girlfriend (Winona Ryder, clearly having too much fun). Thanks to such immoderate performances as hers, the whole movie has a pulpy, purple, over-the-topness to it, which makes it kind of a guilty pleasure, in a low-rent, Southern Gothic way.
Sit back, relax and enjoy the excess, if you can.
R. At area theaters. Contains strong violence, pervasive strong language, drug content and brief sexuality. 100 minutes.