Movie Review: HOMEFRONT Hits The Wrong Mark

A good but not great Jason Statham entry.

No one goes into a Jason Statham movie expecting a masterpiece; we just want some good action, and maybe a little weirdness vague enough to allow fun wacko theories regarding the film's intention. To some extent, Homefront fulfills these goals. It is a solid Jason Statham entry.

But recommending Homefront is a tricky matter as the film's strong points strike me as somewhat accidental. Its primary story (Jason Statham must protect his daughter from gangsters looking for revenge stemming from his history as an undercover cop) pales in comparison to the mini-drama that gets us there (Statham must learn to co-exist peacefully with highly defensive and volatile rednecks), which in turn pales in comparison to a surprising parallel story going on in the periphery (James Franco is a doomed, Coen Brothers-esque small time criminal who finds himself outmatched and over his head the moment he tries to wade in a bigger crime pool). In other words, the film teems with interesting stuff which it frequently abandons for boring action beats. It's good, but its proximity to greatness (genre-wise, anyway) is more a frustration than a mark of quality.

When it comes to the film's performances, I assume people are probably more interested in Franco's uncharacteristic turn as an action villain than Statham's characteristic turn as an action hero. Those expecting either unasked for artistry or winking disregard from the actor will be disappointed. Franco plays it pretty straight, which is appropriate since he sort of provides the hero of his own dark comedy in the film. There is a bit early on where he tries to display menace through alternating quiet sincerity and violent outburst, but even this backs the theory that this meth cooker, Gator, is all puffed up noise rather than a real threat, a big fish in a very small pond. From this perspective, Statham becomes both the villain and a purposefully cliche action figure, like The Rock and Samuel Jackson did in The Other Guys. Meanwhile, the film suddenly seems really smart and witty.

Unfortunately, that's not really what's going on here. This is still a Jason Statham vehicle, and while we might prefer a movie about Gator, Statham's still brings a lot to the table. This is one of his flannel shirt, blue-collar roles, but because he spends most of the film performing his duties as the single father of a smart, ass-kicking pre-teen, his performance calls for more warmth than we're used to. Statham smiles and laughs and comforts and plays with his kid, and it all feels surprisingly genuine. There's even a scene midway through the film where, for no real narrative reason, he and his daughter have a quiet little cry over the memory of his deceased wife. It's sort of hokey and sentimental, but it still manages to work in the film's favor.

The film's real winning performance comes from an assortment of twigs named Kate Bosworth who plays Gator's overly hostile hillbilly sister, who Statham must contend with when his daughter defends herself against her fat bully of a son. We've seen Jason Statham come up against all manner of villains, but Bosworth's Jerry Springer-like trash warrior is a whole new ballgame. Bosworth does not hold anything back, and it's one of those performances so vainly energetic that it almost makes you feel sorry for her. The film is honestly worth her and Statham's scenes alone, and I wish the whole movie revolved around their small-potatoes dilemma.

But it doesn't. One way or another there needs to be some ass-kicking. Homefront succeeds, like most Statham movies do, when it comes to hand to hand fight scenes. It's gunplay, however, suffers from ugly execution. There are no rousing moments and coherence seems more like a luxury than a standard.

Homefront has one more added bit of weirdness I didn't expect. This may be a little spoilery, but I want to go into it anyway. A lot of people get shot in Homefront. Like, almost every major character takes a bullet. But none of them die. For every shocking death, there is an equally shocking, "I'm okay, after all" shot tacked on. I don't know if this was a reshoot thing or what, but everyone lives through this movie except maybe one guy, and I don't even remember what he looks like. After a while, all these miraculous flesh-wounds begin to seem like intentional comedy.

There are other fun things going on. Winona Ryder proves once again that her voice does not play well outside a very specific character set. The film appears to set up a sequel I doubt anyone will be clambering to see, while also setting up a romance that never comes to fruition. Sylvester Stallone's script probably could have been written by anyone, if what we see onscreen actually represents what he wrote.

You get what you paid for with Homefront, but the specter of what could have been hovers over the film, damning what would normally just be an "okay" entry with the sting of missed opportunity. If nothing else, Franco does come pretty close to redoing his "look at my shit" speech. So there's that.