I make no apologies. I loved this dopey little backwood action movie, and no one is more surprised I'm saying that than me. Originally conceived many years ago as a Rambo movie for Sylvester Stallone (who wrote the screenplay), HOMEFRONT has been reworked as a Phil Broker story (based on the book by Chuck Logan) about an undercover drug enforcement agent (Jason Statham) who goes into semi-hiding with his daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) in Louisiana after a bust goes sideways and his cover is blown.
Things seem to be going alright for the pair (Broker's wife died years earlier) until Maddy gets into a fight with bully and kicks the bully's ass. Turns out the bully's parents (Marcus Hester and an almost unrecognizable, gross-looking Kate Bosworth) are connected with the criminal element in town and demand revenge for this minor infraction against their son. Broker tries to apologize, but the wife's brother, Gator (James Franco), is a sizable drug dealer in the area, and while he doesn't like being dragged into this stupid squabble, he looks into Broker and discovers his buried past and knows exactly who's looking for the ex-agent.
Winona Ryder is also on hand and Gator's unreliable squeeze and resident swamp trash. The film also features some meaty performances from the likes of Frank Grillo, Clancy Brown, and "Under the Dome's" Rachelle Lefevre as a teacher in Matty's school and maybe the only person being nice to the Broker family.
So what are all of these better-than-you'd-expect actors doing in a Jason Statham movie? Having the time of their lives, it looks like. Not to imply that anyone is overplaying their parts, but this script has layers that I was not expecting. Watch Gator's disinterest in bother Broker on his sister's behalf turn into something nasty is kind of wonderful. Gator is not a fighter. In fact, when he does come face to face with Broker, he's dropped pretty soundly. So he must rely on his smarts to outwit the man with the training and basically stay far away from him for as long as he can.
But my favorite performer is Bosworth, working with no make-up and greasy hair, coming across as a real bitch on wheels, willing to transfer her loathing of her loser husband and kid into spite for this stranger that just happens to have a tough-as-nails daughter. What's interesting about her, however, is when she sees her brother start to endanger Maddy, she begins to regret her choices and works to protect the girl.
HOMEFRONT works so well because the action stays within the realm of reality. There are no physics-defying stunts or gigantic explosions that seem completely out of place in a film about low-level criminals chasing a man with few weapons but a working knowledge of how to turn a meth lab into a timebomb. No one in this film feels like their slumming by being in it, but it's still wild seeing Franco and others elevating a b-movie story into a film that is a great deal of fun mixed with enough character development to make me care about what happens to these people. Hell, Jason Statham actually smiles in this movie…a lot, and we know why because enough of a person has been created for us to understand his state of mind.
Director Gary Fleder (RUNAWAY JURY, KISS THE GIRLS, THE EXPRESS) is not a director that likes to relay on special effects and major stunt work, so it's not surprising that he's keeping things low key (relatively speaking). I don't mean to imply nothing happens in HOMEFRONT; a great deal of action is featured throughout, and it's expertly directed. It's just nice to see actual people on both sides of the fight and not just cartoon characters. There's almost a '70s vibe to the proceedings, and that might be what I love most of all. If you're predisposed to liking the works of Statham, I think this one is going to really surprise you. If you're not, well, I think the same thing. I wouldn't go so far as to call this a thinking-man's Jason Statham movie, but this is movie where brains and braun are treated with equal reverence.