By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
If I tell you that ever-unpredictable James Franco plays a villain called “Gator” in a movie written by Sylvester Stallone, I would guess the movie forming in your mind right now is more fun than “Homefront.”
This film is spirited — even breathless at times — but lacks the edge of craziness we’ve come to expect from the latest Franco escapade.
Stallone wrote the script (adapted from a novel by Chuck Logan) as a potential self-vehicle but handed the property off to “Expendables” buddy Jason Statham. It’s about an ex-undercover fed trying to lay low in Louisiana with his 10-year-old daughter (Izabela Vidovic); as these things will go, his past comes back in a complicated but violent way.
Gator is the local meth-lab cooker with dreams of expanding his operation, but his associates keep letting him down, especially his strung-out sister Cassie (Kate Bosworth, getting Christian Bale-skinny) and his anxious biker-chick girlfriend Cheryl (Winona Ryder).
Stallone knows the beats of this kind of action picture: bullying, humiliation, desperation and zero help from local law enforcement. (The villains also kidnap the little girl’s cat, which is a “Stand Your Ground” trigger in many states, if I’m not mistaken.)
Pushback follows in due order, proving that Statham is quicker and more agile than the bayou’s best available henchmen. We also learn how to destroy a meth lab using light bulbs, gasoline and towels, so there is useful information contained here.
This blueprint is managed by director Gary Fleder, who has progressed from the exasperating mannerisms of “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead” (1995) to this film’s anonymous professionalism. Which, actually, is an improvement.
Statham suffers Stallone’s worst dialogue, though he maintains his action-man focus. Franco does get something offbeat going: His best line readings capture a certain middle-management frustration with the incompetents around him, and he exhibits mother-hen fussing over the two women in his life, both tweakers.
Gator’s a bad guy, but he’s also caught in the food chain, and by taking his shot at the big time he’s bound to be swallowed up by more serious players. Like, you know, specialized biker-gang hit men — a reminder that this movie isn’t Tennessee Williams material, even if James Franco plays it that way.
“Homefront” (1½ stars)
Jason Statham is an ex-undercover fed trying to live a quiet life with his little girl — but that won’t last long with small-town meth cooker James Franco around. With a script by Sylvester Stallone, this one follows the customary action-movie beats, although villain Franco gets some interesting tweaks along the way.
Rated: R for violence, language, subject matter.