There are few cinematic experiences more reliable than the sheer entertainment value that comes with watching Jason Statham kick people in the face. While Statham isn’t known for picking interesting roles or memorable films, he’s always pleasure to watch on screen. Even when he’s not punching out bad guys, his stoic demeanor somehow accompanies enough charm to carry a movie.
His latest, Homefront, now available on Blu-ray and DVD, co-stars wild card James Franco as a psychotic meth dealer/villain named Gator, while featuring a screenplay courtesy of Sylvester Stallone. And that’s what makes Homefront such a disappointment; it should have been B-movie gold. But instead of big dumb fun, it’s just dumb.
In the film, loosely adapted by Stallone from a Chuck Logan novel, Statham plays ex-undercover D.E.A. agent Phil Broker, a widowed father who has relocated to a small Louisiana town with Maddy, his beloved preteen daughter. At the start of an absurd series of fast-paced, conveniently-related events, Maddy takes down a bully at school who just happens to be the nephew of the local meth kingpin known as Gator. As an eventual consequence, thanks to Gator and his trashy barmaid girlfriend (a seedy but uninspired Winona Ryder), Broker ultimately finds himself up against a biker gang that he helped put away when he was working as a federal agent.
Homefront feels like something out of the early ‘80s, no doubt because Statham’s in the role Stallone (his The Expendables buddy) originally wrote for himself. Stallone’s abilities as a screenwriter are, admittedly, underrated in some other films, but the dialogue and pacing feel out-of-date in this throwback hodgepodge of crime movie clichés.There are several plot threads left unexplored and yet the number of ridiculous coincidences suggested by the storyline may actually rival the considerable number of punches thrown. Despite the methamphetamine drama, this is no Breaking Bad.
Meanwhile, director Gary Fleder (Runaway Jury) moves the film along in the most unimaginative sort of way, even for a genre flick. Unfortunately, Fleder and company make painfully heavy-handed choices in lighting and cinematography. When Broker and his daughter appear on screen together they’re almost exclusively in sunny, golden hues so we know without question their connection is sincere, meaningful and worth fighting for. At the same time, the motorcycle gang and the meth addicts appear exclusively in grungy, poorly lit settings.
There’s also Maddy’s kitten and a stuffed bunny rabbit along the away to either pull on your heartstrings or, more likely, poorly substitute for character development.
When Franco first appears in the movie as the villain, he’s wild-eyed, brandishing a large tattoo of an alligator, swinging a bat and talking complete nonsense. At that point, early in the 100-minute runtime, Homefront briefly flirts with something on the verge of extraordinary. Franco, of course, has enough bravado to turn the irrational drug lord Gator into a memorable character, but Stallone’s adapted screenplay doesn’t give him the chance. As a result, he isn’t as over-the-top as you’d hope. Instead of inspiring a sense of maniacal dread, he’s likely to provide a few unintentional laughs like in the scene where he decides to abduct Maddy’s kitten.
The saving grace of the film, besides Statham’s sturdy presence, comes from an almost unrecognizable Kate Bosworth, who plays Gator’s junkie sister. Bosworth is terrific as an emaciated addict that’s all too desperate for her next hit. She’s cast against type in the role and delivers a performance so engaging that I wish it could have appeared in an entirely different motion picture.
Yes, Homefront includes plenty of the uppercuts, gunshots, and brutal kicks to the head that you’re used to seeing Statham deliver, but even he looks a little bored. Gator’s cronies are so mediocre that Broker could take them out with both hands tied behind his back. (In one scene, Statham, quite literally, does exactly that.) In spite of this, as one of the movie industry’s last remaining action heroes, Statham delivers the goods as usual. The daughter and the kitten even boost his charisma in this unremarkable role, but it’s surely time for Statham to take on a character and a film that’s less predictable.
In the midst of kicking all these dudes’ faces on screen, it would be great to see him kick it up a notch.