“You fight like a cop,” someone observes after Phil Broker (Jason Statham) dispatches an attacker. But while Phil is an ex-cop—a former DEA guy now settled into a quiet Louisiana town with his ten-year-old daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic)—he actually fights more like a Transporter or an Expendable. Jason Statham can modulate his taciturnity, his toughness, and his tenderness as his roles require; like many movie stars, his specialty is making the same thing feel a little bit different. But he can only change so much. Phil Broker may be a Ford-driving, flannel-and-baseball-cap-wearing, All-American straight talker, but he still speaks with a British accent.
Broker has raised a cap-wearing All-American straight talker of a daughter, too, and when Maddy gets into a fight with a schoolyard bully, the Broker clan grabs the attention of a vengeful white-trash mother (Kate Bosworth), which kicks off a chain reaction that leads to Broker’s clash with Gator (James Franco). Gator realizes he may be able to use Broker’s DEA past to his own advantage as a small-time meth dealer; Broker realizes the police may not be able to help him; and the audience senses where this is going long before these opponents do.
Before a series of showdowns that take some but not full advantage of Statham’s physicality—he’s a graceful onscreen fighter—the mayhem builds at a methodical pace. The screenplay comes courtesy of Statham’s fellow Expendable Sylvester Stallone, and while it seems at first from the homemade meth labs as if Stallone binge-watched Breaking Bad, the movie ends up resembling a poor man’s Justified.
Given those precursors, Homefront seems like the perfect place for Franco to assay another drawling weirdo to fit alongside Alien, his dreadlocked character from Spring Breakers. But like Stallone’s decision to delay the shoot-outs and explosions, Franco makes unexpected choices in this role. Gator, despite his moniker and some desperate late-movie threats, is more businesslike than the true psychotics Stallone typically faces in his own starring vehicles (and more sober than Franco’s characters at their goofiest). Gator may be destructive, but he’s not particularly vindictive. He and his sorta-girlfriend Sheryl (Winona Ryder) just want some leverage in their burgeoning meth-cooking careers.
By the time Ryder is introduced, Stallone’s view of women already seems jaundiced: Broker’s beloved wife preserves her saintliness by dying off-screen, his flirtation with Maddy’s teacher stays chaste until the movie drops it for more important matters, and, most noticeably, the women with substantial speaking parts are by turns manipulative, weak, and selfish. But given that these women are played by former starlets Bosworth and Ryder, the roles also come across as a critique of the way actresses are chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood machine. They do their time as hot young things, only to wind up playing desperate tweakers in movies from Millennium Films.
Millennium seems intent on making Louisiana a low-rent Hollywood backlot. It’s been using this setting for many of its recent star-driven thrillers. Nicolas Cage, Nicole Kidman, and Clive Owen have starred in multiple Millennium productions and Franco has another on the way. In this light, Homefront feels right for Statham, one of the best B-movie anchors around. But a feeling of pointlessness sets in as the credits roll. The movie has more atmosphere and character development than a lot of B-movies, but doesn’t capitalize on any of it. Even as an afternoon’s entertainment, it feels expendable.