Silver Screen: Homefront *1/2
It’s surprising for a studio to release a movie with barely a mention that an Academy Award-winning screenwriter penned it. Perhaps that’s less surprising when the screenwriter is Sylvester Stallone.
It’s easy to forget that Stallone is a screenwriter at all, for a lot of reasons. It’s not just that he doesn’t look the part or talk the part or always coherently articulate the part, although there’s that. And it’s not just because he’s only once before written a feature film he didn’t star in, the maligned Saturday Night Fever sequel Stayin’ Alive, thirty years ago. It’s because, as a filmmaker, his style has become so muted and indistinct from the generic vehicles he fronts from other writers. His personality has become so sublimated into a generic action-movie template that it’s difficult to see traces of the guy who wrote Rocky and adapted First Blood. Can you tell just by watching if Stallone wrote Lock Up, The Specialist, Assassins, Cliffhanger, Driven, or Cobra? (Answer: He wrote the last three.)
Homefront is not, alas, the return of authorial Sly. It’s a familiar action vehicle he wrote for himself but got too old to headline, so the lead was eventually passed off to his Expendables cohort Jason Statham.
The central conceit is awfully reminiscent of 2005’s A History of Violence, in which one seemingly isolated incidence of violence unleashes brutal retribution from a dark past. In this case it’s a schoolyard fight between plucky young Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) and a bully. The girl whips him. She’s been trained by her father, who happens to be Jason Statham, or at least Jason Statham in his serious-movie mode playing Phil Broker, a former Interpol and undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent laying low in a small town after his wife dies of an unnamed illness.
The bully’s meth-head mother (a surprisingly credible Kate Bosworth, whose skeletal frame is an eerie asset here) takes the fight as an affront to her family’s reputation and calls on her low-level drug-dealer brother Gator (James Franco) to even the score. Gator stumbles onto information about a biker gang Phil targeted as a cop that still has a bounty on his head, and this sets in motion a deadly chain of events that will inevitably force Statham to do some badass Jason Statham stuff.
Trouble is, Homefront is an action movie with dramatic pretensions, so even though it opens with Statham jumping off a motorbike and blowing up a car with a .44 Magnum, it feigns the deliberate pace of a late-period Clint Eastwood movie as though it were a thoughtful meditation on violence as opposed to a showcase for it. The more-than-capable Statham gets into a couple of thrilling dustups, one of them with his hands zip-tied behind his back, but he’s restrained from launching the kind of hyperkinetic assault he showcases in his gleefully stupider, zippier fare like the Transporter and Crank series.
But as a drama, Homefront is textureless and dull. It goes through the motions of being character-focused without developing anyone beyond the standard of a movie where any dialogue is just passing time between fistfights and gunshots. Franco’s Gator is particularly implausible and unthreatening. He’s supposed to be a crawfish-munching Louisiana bayou hillbilly, but without any trace of accent or grime or intensity, he’s about as authentic as a plate of Cajun shrimp pasta at Applebee’s, not unlike the movie itself.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.