The Stath only wants to raise his daughter in peace and quiet, but the ubiquitous James Franco has other ideas in this Sylvester Stallone-scripted yarn (based on Chuck Logan’s novel). That’s life all over, isn’t? There you are, merrily going about your daily business, and suddenly, from out of nowhere, Franco appears, hell-bent on bringing you down. What a drag. As you’d expect from Stallone in wordsmith mode, Homefront is a watchword in unsubtlety. Thoroughly proud of the slew of clichés that fuel it, there is precious little interest in logic. Instead Sly concentrates on building towards a succession of bone crunching altercations for Statham, on which level the picure more than delivers.
This is Stallone’s first non-Rambo/Rocky/Expendables script in more than a decade, although he initially intended it as an outing for his monosyllabic ‘Nam vet. Perhaps Logan’s status as a veteran piqued Stallone’s interest, albeit the lead character is an ex-undercover cop in both novel and movie. The Stath, Stallone’s Expendables buddy, is Phil Broker, who, following the death of his wife, moves with daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) to a small Louisiana town. He probably should have moved a whole state away from his old job, as before long it comes back to haunt him. Not helping matters any is his decision to keep whacking great files evidencing his former life unsecured in his basement. When he comes to the attention of local meth dealer Gator (Franco) the latter sees an opportunity to expand his business, by shopping Phil to the biker gang he infiltrated (shades of Sons of Anarchy, but only vaguely). You can tell life’s been stressful for Phil of late. In the two years since he quit his job he’s gone from Revolver-style long hair to a big baldy.
And here's another chance for the Stath to show off his paternal chops, following Safe. He makes a better stab at it than his complete lack of an attempt to pull off an American accent (probably for the best, really). If kid’s role begins promisingly (giving the school bully a bloody nose, an encounter that trigger everything else), she quickly falls prey to stand child-in-peril plotting. Phil’s path is just as familiar, not looking for a fight yet not backing down when danger comes calling.
A savage Stath beat down is often a lot of fun to behold, and director Gary Fleder shoots crisply and edits cleanly, ensuring the action is well defined. Sometimes he overplays the obvious, intercutting gathering biker vengeance with an adorable birthday party for Maddy. He’s also unable to make the OTT finale convincing, but he’s most likely only translating what’s on the page. Fleder’s big screen outings are rarer and rarer, and he has never lived up to the promise of his debut Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead. He ought to be making more movies, though; as solid journeymen directors go, he’s one of the better ones. Whether it’s a dust up at a petrol station or a three-against-one while bound with zip ties, the action is expertly presented for Maximum Stath.
The most interesting part of Homefront, for reasons both good and bad, is the supporting cast. Kate Bosworth, almost unrecognisably wan as Gator’s tweaker sister, is a convincingly yokely yokel. Clancy Brown isn’t given nearly enough screen time as the local sheriff but it’s good just to have him on board (you can never have enough Clancy Brown). Less effective is Winona Ryder, who was convincing as the wife of a hit man in The Iceman but here is unable to sell us the idea that she’d have even the most peripheral of underworld connections.
Then there’s the ubiquitous Franco, who might just have delivered if he was playing a weasely, out-of-his-depth, lowlife who wants to play with the big boys. Unfortunately, he’s supposed to be a genuine badass, out-of-his-depth, lowlife who wants to play with the big boys. Fleder seems aware of this; when he shoots the actor’s first scene, taking an iron bar to some meth heads, it’s from below in an attempt to give Franco an imposing presence. It doesn’t work. He’s about as threatening as a ripe banana. We want to see him get his from the Stath, obviously, but Gator never becomes a feasible adversary. He even takes care of the Stath cat, rather than disposing of it (“I want my kid’s cat back” isn’t quite Jodie Foster’s “Give me back my dog!” in The Brave, but it’s in the same general ballpark).
You know exactly what you’re getting with a Jason Statham movie. Even Hummingbird, an attempt to broaden his palate, falls back on tried-and-tested action eventually. Homefront doesn’t have enough fun with its trappings to stand out, but it’s occasionally rousing. You don’t really want the Stathto test new territory lest he stumbles and falls, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in the upcoming Wild Card (based on a William Goldman screenplay, and previously made as Heat with Burt Reynolds) and being the butt of Melissa McCarthy’s jokes in Spy.