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When I first heard about Homefront I was giddy. Jason Statham versus James Franco in a movie written by Sylvester Stallone about a man defending his home against a malicious meth dealer? It seemed a recipe for fantastically over the top action and machismo, with plenty of opportunity for these charismatic stars to chew scenery in a spectacular showdown. Basically I expected the shades of Statham from Crank and Franco from Spring Breakers. What I got was a dour crime drama that takes itself very seriously, and sadly demands its stars do the same.
Statham fronts Homefront as Phil Broker, an undercover DEA agent, widower and single father who is trying to start a new life in Rayville, Louisiana, a place that boasts a meth-making ring and a proud tradition of family feuds. Poor Broker is just trying to keep his head down in the wake of a drug bust gone very bad. But it turns out teaching your ten-year-old to defend herself by hurling bullies into the dirt is not the best idea. In no time, Broker and his daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) have sparked the slathering fury of Cassie (a scrawny but fearsome Kate Bosworth), sister to local kingpin Gator (Franco). As payback, Gator begins harassing father and daughter. But when he uncovers Broker's DEA past, Gator concocts a grander, more convoluted plan for bloody revenge, calling in the drug dealing crew Broker burned before.
I realized pretty quickly my mistake in assuming Homefront would be a willfully bonkers action movie. This was no winking Expendables with one-liners and meta humor. The closest we ever come to a signature line is "whatever you're thinking, rethink it." Its action scenes offer graphic violence, but nothing in the way of witty repartee or fun mayhem. I could have accepted these sterner intentions if Homefront delivered as a compelling action drama. But it absolutely does not.
For one thing, I couldn't call it "action-packed," more action bookended. There's the opening sequence with graphic violence, gunfights and car chases, and the carnage-strewn climax, but little action in between. I counted just three action scenes for the middle hour of the movie. Two of these are brief scuffles Broker has with rednecks who hardly offer a fight, and the third the aforementioned takedown of a schoolyard bully by little Maddy. Worse yet, the big bookending action sequences are incoherently shot with lacking attention paid to establishing geography, making for downright confusing construction.
Even as a drama Homefront falls painfully flat. Statham is charming enough as a single dad, but a lackluster subplot about his romancing Maddy's teacher feels tacked on and unnecessary. Plus, Broker is unbelievably bad at being a DEA agent, hiding classified papers about his cases in boxes lying around his unlocked home, squabbling with his kid instead of fleeing the house when he knows killers are on the way, and inviting a friendly bystander into the inevitable crossfire. But maybe that is fitting as Gator is also wildly inept in his role as antagonist.
While Franco tries his best to glower and wear a grungy goatee like a backwoods thug, he comes off as little more than a movie star slumming it. (The perfect white teeth every meth addict in the movie brandishes is laughable in its own right.) But Stallone's lame script undercuts even these meager efforts at menace by giving Gator ridiculous revenge plans like decapitating one of Maddy's stuffed animals and abducting her pet kitten. These are the tactics of teenage bullies at best, and can hardly be taken seriously from a movie's key villain. All this leads to a final showdown that is a total letdown. It's just Broker beating up a dopey drug dealer, far from entertaining or satisfying.
Even Winona Ryder is a supporting turn as Gator's "meth skank" girlfriend can't elevate this subpar material. Like Statham and Franco, she just feels miscast in this swampy redneck-riddled setting. But cheers to Bosworth. She's petite and rangy, yet she channels an incredible energy into her performance that radiates danger as she spits threats and her arms tremble like live wires of rage. Wild and desperate, she is as close to interesting as this movie gets, but regrettably her screentime is all too brief.
It's depressing to think Stallone got an Oscar nomination for screenwriting Rocky, and this insipid snore is what he's turning out now. It's too devoid of worthwhile action set pieces to satisfy as an action film, too dull to work as a thriller, and too dumb to work as an earnest crime drama. All in all, Homefront is a dud.