There’s a lot of talk in the Louisiana-set Jason Statham vehicle “Homefront” about old-fashioned country feuds and how downright nasty they can get. That’s as sturdy an action tease as the prospect of seeing the entertainingly one-note Statham tossed together with chronically versatile James Franco — in a movie scripted by Sylvester Stallone, no less. (Statham’s “Expendables” sarge has adapted a book by crime novelist Chuck Logan — not to be confused with local notable Chuck Hogan of “The Town.”) So why do they self-defeatingly try fancying up their recipe after a while, rather than just sticking with the meat-and-potatoes stuff?
Statham plays Phil Broker, a former DEA agent who has swapped the hardcore world of New Orleans drug busts for a quieter existence with his young daughter (Izabela Vidovic) out in the sticks. Broker is widowed and yearns for a little peace, in a Statham-stoic sort of way. His previous existence was certainly anything but peaceful, judging by a mayhem-filled opening that establishes his credentials (and that even sticks the bullet-headed action star in a biker wig, maybe to draw attention away from his undercover stab at an American accent).
Broker’s bid for calm hits a snag when his little girl stands up for herself — with extreme prejudice — against a schoolyard bully, which in turn leads to an altercation between Broker and the boy’s trashy parents. (Kate Bosworth is underutilized as the kid’s greasy, gaunt villainess of a mom.) Enter a baaad, meth-cooking uncle, Gator Bodine (Franco, relishing the moniker), to even the score with a downhome harassment campaign of tire slashin’, pet snatchin’, property swipin’, and henchmen siccin’. He’s not a slimeball as outré as Franco’s gold-grilled Alien from “Spring Breakers,” but still, he’s drawn with some wit — the type who’ll snicker at a glimpse of Broker’s old undercover-coif ID, or wince at the promiscuity of his own tramp-waitress girlfriend (thanklessly cast Winona Ryder).
This sparring all feels as familiar as it sounds. (Not too surprisingly, Stallone reportedly penned the script some time ago as a prospective Rambo installment.) Still, Boston University product Gary Fleder (“Kiss the Girls”) directs the action with grungy efficiency, and the movie does hook us with a certain lurid anticipation of just how far things might escalate. Which is pretty much exactly when the filmmakers decide to get back to those none-too-convincing bikers – are they a N’awlins Hell’s Angels chapter, or New Yawk? — in a development that makes the imminent showdown fall right apart. Statham tangling with up-for-anything Franco is a B-movie draw. A Rambo stand-in versus some gang from central casting? Not so much.Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.