by Kathie Smith
Over the years, Jason Statham has become synonymous with bringing his own personal British suavity to bloody-knuckled fistfights, body-bruising stunts and flesh-ripping gun battles. Since the unrelenting bravado of the Transporter and Crank films that helped make his name, however, the tough-guy fare catered for Statham is now starting to taste pretty bland. Homefront, the latest entry, offers another serving of the same despite precious opportunities to capitalize on an atypical supporting cast that includes the likes of James Franco and Winona Ryder. Adapted by none other than Expendables partner-in-crime Sylvester Stallone from Minnesota author Chuck Logan’s police thriller of the same name, the film suffers not only from its unimaginative undercover-cop-in-small-town scenario, but from the predictability of the Statham trademark.
Director: Gary Fleder
Producers: Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King Templeton, John Thompson, Les Weldon, Boaz Davidson, Mark Gill, Avi Lerner, Danny Lerner, Trevor Short, James D. Stern
Writers: Chuck Logan (novel), Sylvester Stallone
Cinematographer: Theo van de Sande
Editor: Padraic McKinley
Music: Mark Isham
Cast: Jason Statham, James Franco, Wynona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Izabela Vidovic, Marcus Hester, Chuck Zito, Nicole Andrews, Clancy Brown
US Theatrical Release: November 27, 2013
US Distributor: Open Road Films
The prologue shows DEA agent Phil Broker (Statham), longhaired and bearded, working undercover in a motorcycle gang that runs a large meth operation. The bust goes wrong, Broker loses his cover, and an army of agents shoots down the adult son of kingpin Danny T (real life Hell’s Angel Chuck Zito.) Worse than being pegged as a narc and having his street cred blown, however, is the fury of vengeance for Danny T’s dead son.
Flash forward two years and Broker has relocated to the quaint southern hamlet of Rayville, Louisiana with his 9-year-old daughter Maddy. The time warp has left some details indiscriminately wagging—the death of Broker’s wife, his status as a DEA agent—but obligatorily we surmise that Broker is looking for a fresh start in the swampy backwaters. Idealism starts to unravel when Maddy sticks up for herself against a playground bully who happens to be the son of the village tweeker Cassie (Kate Bosworth.) Cassie wants redemption for her son’s humiliation at the hands of a girl and her husband’s lack of macho dignity against newcomer Broker. But Cassie is too saddled with her addiction to take action and enlists the help of her thuggish redneck brother Gator (Franco.)
Gator’s first move is to send a couple of goons to harass Broker, who leaves both of them flat on their back. Now feeling challenged, Gator plots a more personal version of intimidation by breaking into Broker’s house, stealing Maddy’s cat and stuffed bunny, and snooping around enough to find Broker’s file as an agent, oh-so conveniently available in a stack of boxes in the basement. Gator, who does a little meth cooking himself with his girlfriend Sheryl (Winona Ryder), sees a way to trade Broker to Danny T and his cronies for wider distribution of his goods.
It’s at this point that the audience is bound to realize two things: Gator is no more than a pathetic low-level bully—a cog rather than an adversarial machine—as compared to the motorcycle gang coming en masse for Broker; and our not-so clever hero probably should have settled a little further outside Danny T’s territory to start anew. Illogical holes and incongruent surprises aside, the movie still fails to generate anything more remarkable than satisfying gulps of action and tension.
Out of the top billed cast, Bosworth wins the award for her very believable drug-addled mom. Statham, Ryder and Franco ride more clichéd paths: stubborn, tough, heart of gold; crazy, skanky, heart of gold; selfish, sad, heart of coal. Gator might keep you guessing and Stallone’s screenplay vainly tries to add some insecure facets to Gator’s otherwise poised façade to make him stand out among its cast of one-dimensional archetypes. But Gator’s dual personality is defined more by his actions—beating up teenagers, stealing a cat but not killing it, keeping his sister on a string with drugs—than Franco’s performance.
Homefront on the whole flirts with both emotional resonance and physical machismo, but chooses a punctuation mark that rests more on Broker’s fearless prowess than his fatherly nurturing—a set-up that intones a potential cinematic life for Broker beyond this particular film. This might be wishful thinking, however, for director Gary Fleder, who relies far too heavily on derivative devices and paltry branding to deserve an encore. As for Jason Statham, here’s hoping that, in his next film, this agreeably entertaining action star will find a more effective way to refresh his persona.
(Originally published on In Review Online.)