A film review by Craig J. Koban December 6, 2013  


2013, R, 110 mins.


James Franco as Gator  /  Jason Statham as Phil Broker  /  Winona Ryder as Sheryl Mott  /  Rachelle Lefevre as Susan Hatch  /  Kate Bosworth as Cassie

Directed by Gary Fleder  /  Written by Sylvester Stallone  /  Based on the novel by Chuck Logan 

The cheaply disposable HOMEFRONT is the kind of 1980’s B-grade/tough guy action flick that Sylvester Stallone would have, no doubt, starred in.  

Alas, Stallone does not appear in front of the camera here, but he did pen the script to the film, which is loosely appropriated from the novel of the same name by Chuck Logan.  Subbing in for Stallone as the main star is the perpetually scowling and ice-cold stern Jason Statham, who more than knows his way around action pictures such as this.  The problem with HOMEFRONT is not so much its already proven and competent lead actor, but rather with Stallone’s scripting, which comes off as tediously generic and woefully predictable.  The film tries to appease fans of low rent and easily digestible grindhouse fare, but it rarely generates the same sort of giddily enjoyably tawdriness and pulse as those types of film.  You just gain an immediate sense, right from the get-go, that this film is just going through the motions. 

HOMEFRONT opens with a rather sloppily executed action sequence that borders on being incoherent (more on the film’s style later).  In it we are introduced to an ex-military man turned undercover DEA agent Phil Broker (Statham) and after his cover is blown while in a biker gang, things go from bad to worse.  The leader of the gang is arrested, but his son is killed by Phil’s fellow agents, which leads to the biker kingpin swearing vengeance against him, whom he holds chiefly responsible.  The film then flashfowards to Phil, now widowed with a ten-year-old daughter, Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) and he has long since retired from active duty.  He has semi-secretly relocated to a quiet and cozy Louisiana small town, where he hopes that both he and his daughter will be able to spend their lives in relative peace and security.  Alas, Phil’s past always seems to haunt him. 



Rather predictably, he just can’t seem to find a manner of keeping far away from trouble.  He soon finds himself in the crosshairs of a local mother (Kate Bosworth), whose son was beaten up by Maddy…but in self-defense.  The mother’s brother, Gator Bodine (an unintentionally hilarious name, played by James Franco) is the local meth cooker and dealer, and she quickly begs her sibling to put the scare into Phil and his kid.  Gator, through burglarizing Phil’s house, manages to discover his past DEA life.  Realizing the blackmail potential that resides with him now, Gator and his ultra-sleazy girlfriend Sheryl (Winona Ryder, six ways to Sunday miscast here) decide to make contact with the biker gang member that Phil put away.  A hit on Phil and his kid is ordered, leaving Phil desperately trying to find a way to defend himself and protect his daughter. 

I can certainly see the appeal of this material for Stallone, seeing as he as, as previously inferred, stared in many films of a similar vain to HOMEFRONT at the peak of his popularity in the 1980’s (the notion of a ultra lethal military man having to come out of hiding to take out the criminal scum that is threatening him is certainly not fresh or new material here).  To his credit, Statham is an obvious good fit for this type of film, as he always manages to bring a credible level of calm and steely-eyed bravado to just about every action film he inhabits (granted, he’s essentially playing the same type of stock character that he has played countless times before, just with minor tweaks here and there).  His co-star throughout the film, Vidovic, has a nice understated naturalness on camera and works well opposite of the beefy Statham, even though she’s essentially reduced to an obligatory child-in-danger plot device. 

Unfortunately, HOMEFRONT’s scripting and direction really kind of betrays what modest good things the film does contain.  Stallone's embellishment of the characters seems a bit bewildering at times, especially with Gator, whom at one point is a semi-bumbling red neck with impulse control issues, but then later is crafty and cunning enough to find out Phil’s past as a DEA agent (you would also think that Phil would keep files of his DEA missions more safely secure than in the crawlspace of his house).  The female characters in the film are either one-note floozies or just criminally underwritten, like that of Rachelle Lefevre’s school psychologist that takes a liking to Phil, but then the screenplay kind of ignores this subplot altogether.  Bosworth is good as her drug-addicted mother figure, but Winona Ryder playing a similar kind of character in the film never once really comes off with any level of authenticity.  She frequently screams and unleashes f-bomb riddled dialogue, but you never feel like she’s truly immersing herself within the character. 

The film’s director, Gary Fleder, is yet another in a regrettably long list of modern action filmmakers that only seems capable of shooting would-be exhilarating sequences with shaky-cam histrionics and dizzying, millisecond editing.  The opening section of the film chronicling Phil’s DEA bust is orchestrated with such a bewildering level of incoherence that making tangible sense of spatial relationships between everyone becomes an almost unendurable test of will and focus.  Everything in it is just…a…blur…of sound and fury.   The action sequences that come later are not helmed with any improved sense of clarity or precision, and the final climax of the picture - pitting Phil against a squadron of biker goons (led by Frank Grillo) - has its share of fun moments, but rarely feels suspenseful, seeing as there is little doubt that Statham won’t mop the floor with just about any adversary.  It’s also too bad when the star’s stunning dexterity and graceful martial arts moves are made indecipherable by Fleder’s spastic directing style. 

I have not mentioned James Franco much in this review thus far, but rest assured he seems to be the only performer injecting a healthy dosage of wanton unpredictability into an otherwise predictable action picture.  He appears to truly relish playing his methhead with a level of venomous menace and wild-eyed country bumpkin stupidity (even though I’m not really sure whether he’s playing it straight or for pure camp value).  Yet, Gator never makes for an effective villain to physically match up against Statham’s hulking prowess, which makes their final confrontation highly anticlimactic.  HOMEFRONT rarely manages to elevate itself above being a standard-ordered action hero cop versus ruthless rednecks action film.  It’s passably entertaining, I guess, for those looking for easily forgettable action thrills, but for those with more discerning tastes, HOMEFRONT is a wasteful excursion into formulaic genre waters.  Or, since the film is set in Louisiana, should I have said, swamp waters? 

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