Homefront is weird. It stars Jason Statham as a former federal agent with a disappearing American accent and James Franco as a Louisiana tough-guy meth cook named Gator. It’s written by Sylvester Stallone, based on the novel by Chuck Logan. It features about five too many main characters, most of them played by actors who are too good for the material.
I repeat: Homefront is weird. But it’s also kind of fun, if viewed from the right angle.
Directed by Gary Fleder (Runaway Jury, Kiss the Girls), Homefront begins with DEA Agent Phil Broker (Statham) looking something like Nicolas Cage circa Con Air, embedded in a Sons of Anarchy-esque motorcycle club. He leads a sting operation that gets lead biker Danny T (Chuck Zito) arrested and Danny’s son killed. Two years later, Broker lives a quiet life at his deceased wife’s childhood home in Louisiana, caring for his young daughter Maddy, played by talented newcomer Izabela Vidovic. Things take a dramatic turn when Maddy gets into a fight at school with a pig-faced bully, who just so happens to be the nephew of local drug lord Gator Bodine.
Taking a closer look, Gator learns of Broker’s history with Danny T, with whom he hopes to partner for wider distribution of meth. As such, Gator gets the bright idea that he can hand Broker and his daughter over to Danny T, and expand his own business prospects in the process.
Clearly, Gator has never seen a Jason Statham movie before.
Really, at its core, that’s all Homefront is: a Jason Statham action movie. If you’ve seen one of them, you know the general idea of what will happen in the rest. If Statham is in a movie, he’s putting his iron-knuckled mitts to good use in rearranging the faces of every adversary he comes across, no matter how big or small. Sometimes, that happens with the assistance of a battery-operated heart. Other times, he fights while transporting assets for high-paying and most likely duplicitous clients. In the case of Homefront, he smashes hillbilly heads on the regular. It’s business as usual.
If you can come to that understanding with Homefront — that you’re getting a Statham action flick, nothing more and nothing less — then perhaps you’ll ease up enough to have some fun. The plot makes very little sense. At around the 40-minute mark, there’s really no reason that Broker and his daughter should stay in Louisiana, with their lives clearly in danger for no good reason. It behooves them to relocate, but they don’t … because the Statham movie can’t end until all of the faces have been punched.
As Gator, Franco’s face is the most punchable of all. He plays Gator almost as a darker Daniel Desario, a glimpse at what might’ve happened to the Freaks and Geeks freak if he’d continued on track three. In other words, he’s portraying a character who’s no match for a Statham bruiser, when push comes to shove. Sure, Gator’s handy with a baseball bat when pitted against local lightweights. But, surprise, surprise, Gator is in over his head where Statham’s Broker is concerned. Watching Gator knowing that there’s a bald British beatdown headed his way is very entertaining indeed.
As for the rest of the cast, Statham and Franco are surrounded by a surprisingly impressive roster of actors. Winona Ryder plays Gator’s trashy girlfriend, the selfish and shellfish-averse Sheryl; it’s unclear why. Not only are Ryder’s talents mostly wasted on the role, but the character’s story could have easily been consolidated with Kate Bosworth’s Cassie Bodine, Gator’s sister. Bosworth is convincing as a meth-addicted mother who wants to do right by her kid but is far too abrasive and destructive for anybody’s good, her own included. It’s the best performance in the film. There are some other memorable turns, such as future Captain America villain Frank Grillo as the tatted bad-boy biker who leads the charge against Statham in the film’s climax, and veteran Clancy Brown as a supposedly corrupt sheriff, even if everything he says and does suggests he’s actually a decent cop.
But “making sense” isn’t Homefront’s top priority. “Punching and kicking backwoods numbskulls” gets that honor, and in that regard at least, the film delivers. Statham’s an accomplished fighter and stuntman, and those skills are well on display here. He unleashes some great, memorable moves throughout the movie, even at times when such drastic measures are hardly called for. There are better action movies in theaters right now, but there’s nothing quite like watching a Statham smackdown.
Although Stallone’s screenplay never goes anywhere worthwhile, Homefront works in its own quirky way, if you let it. If you don’t take the film too seriously, and if you leave your brain at the door, you’ll have a fun time. It’s worth seeing for Statham supporters and Franco-philes. But it’s not a film that demands to be seen in theaters, either. If your first Homefront viewing is on late-night cable television several months from now, you probably did it right.
Homefront opens today nationwide.