Homefront’s plot comes to you straight from the summer of 1984, with Jason Statham playing the role that Jan-Michael Vincent, Steven Seagal, or Chuck Norris would once have glowered through—that of an ex-DEA agent, Phil Broker, who retires to a small Louisiana town with his 10-year-old daughter, Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), after a drug bust goes fatally awry. Once there, he ticks off a vindictive backwoods clan represented by meth dealer Gator (James Franco) and his junkie sister, Cassie (Kate Bosworth), with predictably chaotic consequences. Matters aren’t made any simpler by the eventual involvement of Gator’s girlfriend, Sheryl (Winona Ryder), who turns out to have ties to the biker gang decimated by Broker’s botched DEA bust.
This newcomer-tangles-with-redneck-locals scenario has been regurgitated ad infinitum over the last three decades. Screenwriter Sylvester Stallone and director Gary Fleder bring little of the goofy appeal possessed by campier iterations of the premise (Roadhouse), nor do they succeed at ramping things up to the deliriously hyperbolic heights of, say, early Seagal or Norris. Instead, the material plays out like a particularly busy episode of Sons of Anarchy, possessing a peculiar joylessness that’s anathema to the success of films like this. Compounding this failure is Fleder’s inexplicable decision to hamstring the showcasing of Statham’s legitimate fighting skills with the heavy use of rapid-fire cuts and zooms, obscuring many combat scenes with the hyper-edited incoherence that’s become the bane of contemporary action filmmaking.
Statham’s bone-crunching facility with fight choreography (or what you can discern of it) shows no sign of diminishing, and he never seems to coast in the manner of so many over-40 action stars today. But the rest of the disproportionately qualified cast is bizarrely po-faced. Every successful example of the action films being emulated here had the sense to recognize that these projects live and die by their villains. Franco is perfectly capable of playing exaggerated nefariousness, but is curiously muted here, prompting fantasies about how much better Homefront would have been if he’d transplanted Alien from Spring Breakers into it. As things stand, neither Gator nor the film’s other assorted baddies appear to pose even a nominal threat to Statham’s Phil (at one point, he literally dispatches several with his hands tied behind his back).
Given Statham’s continued reliability as a rock-solid physical performer in an action landscape defined by weightless pixels, Homefront could have been a contender. This genre throwback appeared poised to satisfy anyone waxing nostalgic for the distinctive brand of fists-and-squibs mayhem typified by the ’80s-era Cannon Group catalogue. Unfortunately, despite featuring Statham’s usual satisfying combination of cartoonish brutality and smirking self-awareness, Homefront falls apart pretty quickly, its rote repetition of ’80s action tropes coming across less like inspired riffing and more like unimaginative by-the-numbers moviemaking.