If this were 1987, “Homefront” would be the baddest feature film to hit your local Cineplex this holiday season. Written by Sylvester Stallone, from a novel by Chuck Logan, this is a movie that Sly, Schwarzenegger, or one of their ilk, could easily have headlined in their 80s action prime, and I mean that in every conceivable way. There are cell phones and modern automobiles—a few late model pick up trucks at least—but this could be almost any time in the last 30 years. There’s a timeless, anachronistic quality, and that is how “Homefront” is best enjoyed, as a fun trip into nostalgia.
Jason Statham proves yet again that he’s the only action star working in the current genre landscape that not only consistently makes these types of movies, he also gets them a wide theatrical release. “Homefront” simply isn’t the kind of film general audiences want anymore, and if anyone else were the star—with the obvious exception of Sly, Arnie, or maybe Bruce Willis—this would be another disc on the DTV pile. There are people, like Scott Adkins, who could pull this movie off, perhaps even better than Statham, but no one in the mainstream would pay it any mind.
Stripped down, old school grinders like this don’t have the draw they once did in a world where every sequence has to be bigger, louder, and more expensive than the last. “Homefront” is the very definition of bare bones. Statham is Phil Broker, a former DEA agent. Hiding from trouble, he and his daughter are trying to keep a low profile in a small Louisiana town when he runs afoul of a local meth cook and some bikers. Even the bad guys are retro, though in the 80s this would have been cocaine, not tweak.
It isn’t even that this is all the plot you need to know going in, this is all the plot you get for the entire movie. There are no surprises, no twists or turns or any of that fancy crap. You know exactly who is good and who is bad; and you know precisely what is going to happen. If that sounds like just the kind of action movie you’ve been waiting for—Jason Statham kicking the crap out of meth dealers and bikers—then you’re going to love the living hell out of “Homefront,” if not, you’ll find the film wanting.
The fact that James Franco is in “Homefront” is something of an anomaly. This isn’t his usual brand of broad stoner comedy or off kilter indie fare. His swamplands meth kingpin, “Gator” Bodine, plays something like the redneck cousin of his corn-row-wearing drug dealer Alien in “Spring Breakers.” I like to think that’s why he took the part, because he sensed this connection. You half expect him to whisper, “crystal meth,” over and over again to his biker groupie girlfriend Sheryl (Winona Ryder). And yes, Winona Ryder is in this movie. This really and truly is like someone let twelve-year-old me write the script. Kate Bosworth, who plays a very convincing speed freak, is also along for the ride. Emaciated and twitchy, you wouldn’t be surprised to find her walking down the street in the dead of night, muttering to herself, picking invisible bugs out of her skin.
After a brief prologue that introduces the past Broker is running from, “Homefront” is all idyllic small town family life with ominous music playing over the top, as if to scream at you, “This can’t tranquility can’t possibly last!” And it doesn’t. Here’s the thing, the instigating event, the plot point that gets this metaphorical snowball rolling downhill, revolves around Broker’s beating up a fat little bully. As you watch, know that everything that happens, happens because an ugly boy doesn’t want to admit he got beat up by a girl he was picking on. It isn’t quite as ridiculous as the stolen chicken burrito that kicks everything off in “Battleship,” but it isn’t far off.
Even though it’s fun to watch Broker bludgeon random generic bad guys, the coherence of the action sequences leaves much to be desired. Many of the fight scenes are edited to the point where the cuts come so quickly that you can barely tell what the hell is going on, and as a result they’re jumbled and choppy. It’s too bad, because there is a ton of badass potential in these battles that never quite makes it to surface.
You’re never exactly sure why this movie is called “Homefront.” The title implies some kind of military connection, like a war coming home, but there’s none of that. Aside from a puzzling name, this is a movie with no pretention, that isn’t trying to be anything that it isn’t. “Homefront” is an action movie from an earlier generation, and if that sounds like a good time, this is a movie that you’ll probably like.