Jason Statham stars as a former undercover DEA agent, who needs to relocate after a recent drug bust reveals his identity. Moved to his deceased wife’s hometown with his young daughter, things heat up early when said daughter fights back against a bully. Sure, the little prick deserved it, but daddy has taught daughter how to defend herself, and we ain’t talking about wedgies or a round of cyber-bullying. This earns him the ire of redneck hellcat Kate Bosworth (!) and her deadbeat husband, who are none too happy when the school and even sheriff Clancy Brown don’t want to do a whole lot about it. So drug-addicted Bosworth instead turns to her drug-dealing brother Gator (Oscar nominee James Franco!) to scare Statham outta town. And that’s when Franco (who has the sheriff on his payroll, by the way) and his trashy girlfriend Winona Ryder (!!) uncover Statham’s true identity, through a mutual acquaintance. That acquaintance would be biker/gangster Chuck Zito, the man Statham incarcerates at the beginning of the film. And that’s when shit starts getting real, as Zito blames Statham for the death of his son and is set on orchestrating some payback. Frank Grillo plays a hired thug underling of Zito, whom Ryder turns to when Statham’s true identity surfaces. Omar Benson Miller and Rachel LeFevre play the only genuinely friendly people in town, whilst Pruitt Taylor Vince has a cameo as a sleazy man who leaks Statham’s identity to Ryder.
Although the stunt casting isn’t always effective, this 2013 Jason Statham vehicle from eclectic director Gary Fleder (“Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead”, “Don’t Say A Word”, “Runaway Jury”, “Impostor”) is one of the star’s best and most entertaining efforts to date, albeit not by a huge margin. It’s actually scripted by the one and only Sylvester Stallone who gave it to his “Expendables” co-star Statham when age had gotten the better of the former “Rambo”. Apparently it was originally conceived as a “Rambo” entry (and by the way, Stallone is apparently doing another “Rambo” film soon anyway!), and one of the best things about the film is just how ‘old-school action movie’ it feels. It’s a bit lumpy in the casting department, but I’ve gotta say, this one’s a bit of 80s/90s action fun. Less a “Rambo” film, in terms of plot it reminds me of some of the films Steven Seagal came out with after his career crapped out in 1994. Think “Fire Down Below”, “The Patrior”, or even middling Van Damme flicks like “Nowhere to Run” or “Desert Heat” (Now that I think of it, Chuck Norris made this ‘new arrival cleans up corrupt redneck town’ kinda thing his trademark too, didn’t he?). But it’s better than those films in terms of quality. Or maybe I was just in a nostalgic mood. I mean, I grew up on 80s and 90s action movies.
It’s certainly a very pretty film to look at, with great scenery and nice lighting. It’s very, very pretty for an action film, so full credit to cinematographer Theo van de Sande (“Little Nicky”, “Blade”, “Grown Ups”) for that. It’s a more than watchable, refreshingly retro film. It’s nothing you haven’t seen a thousand times before, sure, but it might be something you haven’t seen in a while. In fact, the only thing about it that really isn’t retro (aside from some of the cast) is the brevity of the action scenes. Statham and Frank Grillo having an MMA fight in a redneck swamp is amusing stuff, but too brief. The camerawork is a little too indicative of modern action films in these scenes, but Statham sure does impress as one helluva brutal fucker nonetheless. In fact, despite whatever accent he’s making a half-arsed non-attempt at once again, he’s quite good here, and better company than he was in “Blitz” and “Safe”. He’s certainly believable as a man with a violent past and violent impulses that he tries his best to suppress to provide a stable life for his daughter.
The one who probably impressed me most here, though, was surprisingly Kate Bosworth. It might take you a while to recognise her here, she’s gone full-on ‘white trash mother in denial about her dickhead bully son’. I mean, this is Taryn Manning/Bijou Phillips territory, not something you’d think the chick from “Blue Crush” would be up for. It’s not quite Charlize Theron in “Monster”, but nonetheless, the usually lightweight Bosworth is startling, her best-ever performance as this nasty, bitter hellcat of a woman. James Franco, however, is a mixed bag here as the chief heavy. He immediately commands attention as a violent guy named Gator Bodine. Yeah, gotta have a guy named Gator in something like this. Is he subtle? Hell no, but his lively performance is nonetheless pretty good. I just didn’t buy him as a believable threat to Jason Statham specifically. It felt like there needed to be a Vinnie Jones or even Sylvester Stallone himself to provide the muscle and physical intimidation towards Statham (Josh Brolin, Kiefer Sutherland, or even Josh Holloway are other names I can think of who would’ve been amazing). I think underrated action star Scott Adkins would’ve been absolutely ideal. So while there’s nothing wrong with Franco’s performance- he’s a talented guy when it’s his wont- he’s just not the right fit here, when so many others would’ve been. And then we come to Winona Ryder. Yes, Winona Ryder and James Franco are in a Jason Statham movie scripted by Rocky Balboa. Ryder plays the white trash love interest of Franco here, despite being visibly much older than him. 7 years older, in fact, which may not sound like a lot, but as good as Ms. Ryder looks for her age (or any age), the difference is clear and distracting. Natasha Lyonne or Tara Reid would’ve been much more effective and believable casting, and surely not terribly expensive either. More than that, I just didn’t understand why she was cast in this role and why she agreed to such a role. It’s really sad how things have panned out for her, and if you thought it was harsh that she was playing the ‘old’ ballerina in “Black Swan”, here she’s in a film from Millennium films (the new Golan/Globus), scripted by Sly Stallone, and getting rear-ended by James Franco. Her performance here is terrible, and her role is depressingly demeaning. She and Franco really are the only problems I have with this film, and she’s much more of a problem than he is.
This is an enjoyably retro action film, the only thing missing is that if this were a Van Damme film from the 90s, he’d screw the school teacher for sure at some point. Maybe screenwriter Stallone feels icky about writing sex scenes for anyone other than himself, I dunno. If you like 80s/90s action and can get around some of the casting mistakes, this one’s a pretty decent Jason Statham film and Kate Bosworth makes you really do a double-take here. Warts and all I kinda liked it, though this is a very mild recommendation certainly. Typically good Mark Isham (“The Hitcher”, “Point Break”, “The Cooler”) score is a nice addition.