By Shane M. Dallmann
Well, here’s the perfect companion feature to the under-appreciated BULLET IN THE HEAD… another Deep South action thriller in the spirit of the 1980s: and it’s no coincidence that Sylvester Stallone himself wrote and produced this as a vehicle for his EXPENDABLES sidekick Jason Statham. And while HOMEFRONT will doubtless go the way of BULLET (not to mention Statham’s own recent solo vehicles), it ought to satisfy his fans thoroughly.
Statham is Phil Broker, a widowed former DEA agent trying to make a new life for himself and his ten-year-old daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) in Louisiana. But like father, like daughter… Maddy has been trained to take care of herself and doesn’t take a schoolyard bullying incident lying down–nor will mere apologies suffice when the offended mother (Kate Bosworth) is everyone’s worst white trash meth-head nightmare. Mom’s determination to settle the feud causes her to bring her brother “Gator” Bodine (James Franco) into the picture, and while all she’s really after is some STRAW DOGS harassment (hey, Bosworth was also in that remake–I’m still trying to figure out how the hell she wound up cast as Lois Lane), Gator’s own connections to the drug world inspire him to latch on to Phil’s true identity and bring a world of unsettled grudges down on his head.
HOMEFRONT is no stretch for Statham (this year alone we’ve already seen him protecting a little girl and viciously kicking ass alike), but that’s like saying that MESSENGER OF DEATH wasn’t a stretch for Charles Bronson. The film is purely and simply a vehicle for Statham to do what he does best; but thanks to Stallone and director Gary Fleder, we’re still given more than mere resignation to formula. My eyes rolled more than once in the early going (good grief, the girl has a beloved kitten; Statham has a good-natured black friend; and sheriff Clancy Brown seems to be begging for an excuse to slap the cuffs on the outsider), but while things go fairly well as you might expect, they still don’t go EXACTLY as you might think. The cliches are treated with decent imagination, and heroes and villains alike are allowed plenty of meat (as opposed to just scenery) to chew. Franco, in particular, is having a grand old time as the oily Gator (not much to look at but far more capable of standing up to Statham than his pathetic brother-in-law), and while Winona Ryder seems just a bit too well-kept to be Gator’s junkie flunky, she brings as much enthusiasm to her role as anyone else in the cast. And yes, HOMEFRONT passes the acid test by giving us a child actress who knows exactly what she’s doing and who never becomes cloying or obnoxious.
Not that this is a ‘family’ film by a long shot. Statham doesn’t WANT to raise a hand to anybody, of course, but when you push him, he does exactly what you bought a ticket to see him do–the modern tendency to hyper-cut the action scenes doesn’t unduly compromise some brutally effective short bursts of violence, but you do wish they’d slow down and let some more extended mano-a-mano scenes happen at a natural pace. All in all, the wheel hasn’t been re-invented, but HOMEFRONT keeps it spinning quite nicely and stands as one of Statham’s most satisfying star vehicles.