Perhaps of all the genres, action fans often feel the most cheated. If you’re yearning for a post-metrosexual, non-superhero kickass character these days, well, your choices are pretty slim. It’s enough to make you wish there were more Westerns, or for the cast of “The Expendables”… before they were eligible for Medicare. So it seems only fitting that director Gary Fleder and Sylvester Stallone set out to craft a clever and engaging action flick with a Western theme starring today’s hottest star of the genre, Jason Statham, in “Homefront.”
Phil Broker (Statham) is an undercover DEA agent tasked with bringing down a major meth operation run by a ruthless biker gang. Posing as one of the bikers, the feds finally seem to have the gang right where they want them. Converging on the bikers’ lair en masse, the agents soon discover that drug lords tend not to go down so easily. The ensuing gun battle is almost at a stalemate when Statham reveals his identity and shifts the tide of the fight. Meanwhile, the gang’s leader, Lewis (Stuart Greer), makes a break for it with his son Jimmy (Marcus Hester). Broker leads the agents in pursuit and the fight leaves Jimmy with more holes than brain cells. Lewis vows revenge and Broker walks off into the distance.
Broker tries to start life over in rural Louisiana with his daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), but while the little girl didn’t inherit daddy’s hairline, she definitely got his butt-kicking gene, as she easily takes down the school bully, Teddy (Austin Craig). Teddy’s mom (Kate Bosworth) enlists her meth-dealing brother (James Franco) to put a scare in Broker, which sets off a series of events filled with revenge, gun battles, meth explosions and an all new reason to avoid Bayou real estate.
Somehow lost among the numerous box office hits and tough guy resurrections is the fact that Stallone is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. Not only did he pen the “Rocky” series, but he also was behind the keyboard for “The Expendables” franchise. “Homefront” is based on a series of books by novelist Chuck Logan that Sly adapted the books into a screenplay nearly a decade ago. But sensing he was closer to AARP than young gun, he decided to allow fellow Expendable Statham to have top billing, and the result is one of the best action films of the year.
Stallone not only handpicked Statham for the lead role, but he had a hand in selecting director Gary Fleder too. Although most recently known for his work in television, Fleder brought his big screen pedigree (“Runaway Jury,” “Kiss the Girls”) with him to “Homefront.” He manages to infuse the film with an element of fear and sensibility that’s usually missing from Statham’s usual roles. Having worked in Louisiana previously for 2003’s “Runaway Jury,” the Southern native is able to capture just what makes the Bayou as beautiful as it is downright creepy.
Statham may not officially be receiving the action torch from Stallone, but he shows a more charming side of himself not seen since his collaborations with Guy Ritchie. In “Homefront,” he’s not just a loner who breaks bones (although there’s a fair share of that), but a concerned father and grieving widower. Best of all, we even get to see Statham smile. Hey, even Rambo smiled sometimes.
“Homefront” benefits enormously from the casting. Even the most ardent anti-Francophiles (yes, I made that up) have to admire the way Franco is able to slip into the scariest of characters. What makes Franco’s character of Gator so believable is the calculating way he can go from bully to maniac, even while things are getting away from him. Bosworth’s meth-addicted sister is at the center of the second act as she gets the pot stirred between Broker and Gator, which leads to her own transformation. Bosworth is nearly unrecognizable from the more glamorous roles she’s accustomed to. It’s evident by the way she’s adopted the sour personality and addict twitches that she enjoyed the challenge of working outside of her comfort zone.
“Homefront” is a retro action film much like a Western with a clear case of good guys and bad guys. There aren’t many damsels in distress (besides Broker’s daughter), but it’s a classic story of starting over, which never gets old. It’s a bit of that as well for Statham the actor, as we see a side of him that hasn’t been revealed in a while. I haven’t read the books, so fans may have issues with the casting, story and even the characters. As with all adaptations, your mileage may vary. “Homefront” manages to hit all the right notes and even a few you wouldn’t expect, and there’s nothing expendable about that.