'Homefront' delivers a decent take on a tired formula
PHOTO BY MILLENNIUM FILMS
Where is it playing?: Downtown Centre, Park, Stadium 10, Galaxy
What's it rated?: R
What's it worth?: $8.00
What's it worth?: $6.00
Gary Fleder (Runaway Jury, Kiss the Girls, Don’t Say a Word, Imposter) directs this screenplay by Sylvester Stallone based on the novel by Chuck Logan, about a former DEA agent (Jason Statham) who moves his family to a small town only to find he’s forced to confront a local meth lord (James Franco). Winona Ryder, Rachelle Lefevre, and Kate Bosworth co-star. (100 min.)
Glen: This is a story we’ve seen many times before: a former tough guy just wants to live a quiet life, but circumstances pull him back into action. Shane (1953) is the classic example. For the record, Homefront is no Shane. But it takes what’s become a somewhat stagnant formula and delivers it in a fairly well-executed package, thanks mostly to a strong supporting cast. After his wife dies, Phil Broker (Statham, tying ineffectively to play down his English accent) brings his young daughter Maddy (newcomer Izabela Vidovic) to her mom’s old town, but Maddy, being an outsider, gets picked on by bully Teddy Klum (Austin Craig). Since daddy taught her to fight, she ends up humiliating Teddy, and so his meth-head parents Cassie (Kate Bosworth, in one of her strongest performances) and Jimmy (Marcus Hester) want revenge. Naturally Phil makes quick work of Jimmy, but that sets in motion the real showdown between Cassie’s meth-dealing brother Gator (Franco) and Phil. Soon a bike gang Phil had formerly infiltrated as an undercover agent is back on his trail, and all hell breaks loose. Good action, characters who aren’t cardboard cutouts, and an interesting backwater setting make Homefront a watchable but mostly unremarkable foray into this tried-and-true formula.
Steve: Whenever I see Jason Statham on the screen, I think of my Ducati-riding British buddy Russ because he has the same sort of dry, sarcastic, tough-guy attitude that Statham puts across on screen. Don’t get me wrong: This is a good thing, because every time I sit down to have coffee with Russ I pretend I’m actually with a movie star. None of that is here nor there, though, when it comes to the elevation of Statham’s acting prowess. I’m sure many people will pooh-pooh this notion, but film after film, Statham just keeps on getting better and more convincing as a tough guy who can actually put a bit of emotion into his roles. Yeah, he’s kinda stuck in the action genre, perhaps, but if you’re really good at something, why stop? I will remark that there is a distinct Strawdogs (the remake) feeling to this film with all the backwater rednecks, drugs, and guns. It’s not a bad thing, though, because the tension of the movie slowly ramps up, just like in Strawdogs. Coincidentally, or maybe not, Kate Bosworth (emaciated beyond belief in this movie) plays essentially the “instigator” in both movies.
Glen: Bosworth looks terrible—rail-thin, half-mad, and spiteful—yet we see her character has a strong mother instinct, which is why she’s so protective of her son. She’s also clearly disappointed in her husband, who can’t seem to live up to the swagger of her larger-than-life brother Gator, the kind of guy who can “take care of business,” which we see when he catches some kids cooking meth in his territory. Winona Ryder also turns in a solid performance as Gator’s girlfriend Sheryl, a former passed-around girl by the biker gang. Gator, you see, thinks if he gives the gang Phil’s whereabouts so they can take revenge, then they’ll let him have his own meth distribution, bringing his local operation to the next level. It’s a glimpse into a dark criminal underworld that’s better than some, but not as good as last year’s excellent underrated crime drama Killing Them Softly. Bottom line, Homefront ain’t bad, but I prefer the twist on this story when the former tough guy is a bad guy trying to go good, such as Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992), Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way (1993), and, more recently, David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, which raised the bar for this storyline to nosebleed heights.
Steve: On the topic of the tough guy trying to be good, I just saw The Iceman (2012) with Michael Shannon and Winona Ryder, which is about a mob hitman who has a happy family life. Talk about a twist! Definitely worth a viewing, but back on topic: The one performance I wasn’t all that pleased with was James Franco’s. It’s not that he’s a bad actor, exactly—the opposite! Rather, he just didn’t have the right amount of bad guy “umph,” and it’s probably because he’s just not all that intimidating looking and his body language throughout the film was just a little wimpy to me. Of course, I’m biased in all this reviewing nonsense because I’ve yet to see a Statham movie I didn’t like. I’m pegged as the action movie guy here at New Times (you should hear the ridicule in the office) and I’m unabashed about that. There are times when action movies fall flat on their faces and crush their skull bones, though this isn’t one of those times (the remake of Red Dawn was actually worse than the original one to me, for example). I do have to admit that I’m kind of shocked Glen actually liked the movie, and it’s a grand example of why I’ll never be able to understand his crazy taste variability whenever we see a film for the paper. However, since we both like it, it must be really good, right? Oh, one last note to Jason: You, sir, look very bad with long hair.
Glen Starkey is a New Times staff writer and Steve Miller is New Times’ staff photographer. Comment at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.