Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
Directed by: Gary Fleder
Starring: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth
A good Jason Statham film (yes, I know some may consider that an oxymoron) is like a fairground ride. It’s cheap, sometimes rundown, often garish, and might even pose a health risk. It’s also so much fun that I sit there with a wide grin from start to finish. In Homefront, stupidity and implausibility frequently burst off the scale. For some films, this would be a bad thing. For a Sylvester Stallone penned, Jason Statham action film, anything less would be a disappointment. This is not quite top grade Statham, but kick back, disengage and let Britain’s premier action movie export take you on an emotionally blank, frankly preposterous, high octane adventure.
Starting a film for the third time this year with a surfeit of hair – I wonder if he’s made it a contractual stipulation – Statham is Phil Broker, undercover DEA agent. His assignment in a violent bike gang ends…well violently. In a slightly disproportionate reaction, the police spend several seconds shooting the son of the leader Danny T (Chuck Zito) who naturally vows revenge on the narc. Because he’s that kind of guy, Broker’s disgusted by the way the resolution is handled and storms away in a huff.
Off the front line, Broker then resettles in rural Louisiana where he’s taking on single parent duties with his daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) following the death of his wife. A small playground incident then inexplicably gets out of hand and soon he’s not only facing the wrath of local drug dealer Gator (James Franco), his girlfriend Sheryl (Winona Ryder) and sister Cassie (Kate Bosworth), but also the biker gang. With Maddy’s life at risk, the only thing Broker can do is calmly ask people to back away once, and then coolly dispatch them if they refuse.
There is a wonderful pacing that comes with the better Statham action films. First, there is an explosive opening before settling into a slow pattern punctuated by the odd individual fight. Tension usually mounts as he is betrayed in some way before a full-on firefight/fistfight and a show down with his nemesis concludes events. Director Gary Fleder does a decent job in replicating it, although he does go a little overboard with sweeping helicopter shots of the surrounding landscapes. I can only assume that at these particular points, they’d run out of things to say in a script that is hardly flush with fresh ideas.
Stallone is technically an Oscar nominated screenwriter, but even by the standards of the man who wrote Rocky V, this is a flimsy effort. Small town feuding escalates rapidly with a couple of all too convenient triggers introduced to bring in his old biker pals. After a brief bloodbath, the ending is then rushed with an anti-climactic coda added for the sake of a final scene of male posturing. Menacing showdowns laced with heavy breathing and silence is the main form of communication between the protagonists.
For some reason, these protagonists include James Franco, Winona Ryder and Kate Bosworth. How they all joined the cast for an action thriller that can only aspire to the dizzy heights of B movie glory is a fascinating mystery. Perhaps it is the Hollywood equivalent of a Christmas pantomime. It certainly provides the opportunity for some good old fashioned crazy-eyed shouting, fighting and swearing.
Ultimately though, it’s all about the star. Jason Statham only ever plays Jason Statham. Here, he is Jason Statham the improbably gifted DEA agent with his own personal arsenal, a family tragedy, and a young daughter. Statham doesn’t really act with his body, aside from the parts he uses to hit people and occasionally deliver testosterone fuelled threats. Instead, he uses props to aid his acting abilities. Where normally he might rely on suits, Stallone gives him a baseball cap, a couple of horses, a young kitten and a daughter. It’s fair to say that he follows the dictum less is more when conveying the turmoil confronting his character.
To be fair, no one wants a Shakespearean monologue from Statham. Broker is a calm, collected man capable of sudden, justified violence. He’s not restricted in his choice of weaponry either. Sure, guns come in handy, but so do all the implements in a boating shed, and even a petrol pump when he’s jumped by a couple of thugs. The action is deftly choreographed. Without ever being spectacular, it is all good fun.
That is all that really matters. The story may be so lightweight that the slightest gust of wind will sweep it away, the dialogue a mixture of ridiculous male bravado and trite parenting clichés, and the directing nothing beyond perfunctory, but it is frequently gleeful, giddy entertainment. Jason Statham has finished off the year with an early Christmas present. It might not be the headline act, but it certainly makes a good stocking filler.