Jason Statham made his big screen debut in 1998’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and just four years later he got his first starring role as The Transporter. He’s been punching and kicking ever since, averaging between two to four films per year over the last decade, with 2013 coming in at the high end with lead roles in both Parker and Redemption and an end-credits cameo in a major action franchise. There are of course exceptions, but we can probably all agree that Statham’s more of a quantity over quality kind of guy.
His newest action romp, Homefront, offers some bang for your buck, but it probably won’t be changing that assessment.
Phil Broker (Statham) is working undercover as a member of a motorcycle gang that dabbles in the manufacture and distribution of meth. The big bust goes sideways, and when the gang leader’s son gets swiss-cheesed in front of his eyes, he swears vengeance against Broker before being carted off to jail. Two years later Broker and his young daughter, Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), are settling down to a new life in a small Louisiana town. The sins of the past soon come calling though when a local meth dealer (James Franco) discovers Broker’s past and invites some old friends to town for payback.
While Broker’s intent was to leave the big, bad city and the violence of his job behind so he can raise his daughter in peace, there was never any real chance of that happening. He runs afoul of the locals fairly quickly after his daughter ends a schoolyard bully’s shenanigans rather decisively with some moves she picked up from her old man. The bully’s parents (including a twitchy, bone-thin Kate Bosworth) demand justice, and when it doesn’t come from the law (Clancy Brown) they escalate to her brother, Gator Bodine (Franco). Bodine, along with his morally vacant squeeze Sheryl (Winona Ryder), set in motion a deadly chain of events consisting mostly of gunfire, spin kicks, and explosions.
Director Gary Fleder hit it big with Kiss the Girls in 1997, but his last wide release was 2008’s football bomb The Express. He’s kept busy with television work, and those years of small screen craftsmanship haven’t done his eye for action or set-pieces any favors. Statham has always been an attractively stylish brawler when given the opportunity, and hints of it are present in some early fights. Unfortunately as the film wears on, Fleder shifts the action in a less appealing direction thanks to numerous quick edits and a succession of close-ups.
Statham’s character requires him to stretch a bit more than even his martial arts have previously asked of him, and while he’ll never be mistaken for a great actor it’s good to see him reaching. Franco meanwhile teases an over the top villain at times (including one scene where he shows off his lab and all but says “Look at my shit!”), but the script continually reins him in again. He still manages some fun moments, but the character seems more confused than charismatic.
The script is to blame for that, not Franco, and it’s perhaps the oddest part of Sylvester Stallone’s otherwise generic adaptation of Chuck Logan’s novel. It’s Sly’s twenty-first script and the first that doesn’t feature him onscreen, and while it’s formulaic in many ways its handling of the villain is a bit strange. Gator is set up as a major bad guy, but while no one would expect much of a bout between Franco and Statham, the character is a bit of a conflicted mess. The trade-off perhaps is that Stallone’s script makes more time than expected for Broker and his daughter to hang out, converse about the girl’s recently deceased mother, and generally bond. It helps too that Vidovic is a solid little actress who manages hints of a Chloe Moretz-style “wiser than her years” without becoming annoying or false.
The film is an easy watch thanks to the periodic fight scenes and the likable cast, but while Homefront is the best Statham movie of the year, that ultimately means very little. Still, fans of the man will find enough here to hold them over until the first of his three 2014 releases heads to theaters.
The Upside: Some entertaining fights; some sincerity in the father/daughter scenes; props for not pretending that a rail-thin Kate Bosworth is attractive
The Downside: Later action is edited haphazardly; script neuters main villain leaving no central threat; simplistic
On the Side: Sylvester Stallone originally adapted Chuck Logan’s novel with the intention of making it into a new Rambo film.