(2013)3Jason BuchananA haunted stranger searching for a new life arrives in a small town, and keeps incurring the wrath of the locals until he is forced to become a one-man army to survive: If the plot of Homefront sounds strangely familiar, you may not be surprised to learn that the film was written by Sylvester Stallone, whose 1982 action classic First Blood contains many of the same core elements. Originally written as the final chapter in the John Rambo saga, this could have been a fascinating bookend to that iconic series following 2008's brutal, belated Rambo, but instead what we get is a fairly direct Jason Statham vehicle with a fair amount of crowd-pleasing action and some creative casting that gives the impression of something slightly more substantive than your standard meathead shoot-'em-up.
Undercover DEA agent Phil Broker (Statham) has just busted a meth ring run by a ruthless motorcycle club when, in the heat of the moment, police gun down the son of the gang's ruthless president, Danny T. (Chuck Zito). Soon after, Broker loses his wife and leaves his career behind in favor of moving to his late spouse's remote Louisiana hometown with their 9-year old daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic). When Maddy uses the self-defense skills she's learned from her dad to school a playground bully, her young tormentor's meth-smoking mom Cassie (Kate Bosworth) convinces her meth-cooking brother "Gator" (James Franco) to "mess with their heads like you do with everyone else."
That messing leads to trouble for Phil and his daughter when the snooping Gator finds the file detailing the deadly bust, which he gives to the vengeful, incarcerated Danny T. in the hope of getting greater distribution for his product. Meanwhile, Gator's girlfriend Sheryl (Winona Ryder) finds herself on the losing end of a bargain with Danny T.'s cold-blooded right-hand man Cyrus (Frank Grillo) and his murderous henchmen, who roll into town with a small armory and a plan to ambush Broker at his secluded home. Broker is ready for them, but when Maddie gets abducted by Sheryl in the heat of the fight, her enraged father will defy even the town's corrupt sheriff (Clancy Brown) in order to rescue his daughter from the dangerously unpredictable Gator.
While the echoes of the original idea can still be felt throughout Homefront, what you see is mostly what you get; in this case, that means an action movie that aspires to pack an emotional punch, but primarily relies on the characters' fists for that. There's some genuine heart to Stallone's screenplay, and it's played surprisingly well not just by talented youngster Vidovic, but also by Statham in an emotionally raw scene dealing with the young girl's lingering grief over the loss of her mother. Outside of that, the plot mechanics feel like they could have been cranked out at an assembly plant for action-film screenplays. His face as rough as a chiseled chunk of granite, retired Hell's Angel Chuck Zito brings some welcome authenticity to the picture as the biker-club president obsessed with avenging his son's death, while Franco's Gator is a ferociously territorial yet bizarrely rational villain -- at least, until the glass pipe comes out and all bets are off. It's an oddly effective power balance that's constantly shifting thanks to the inclusion of psychotic wild card Cyrus, whom we never doubt is capable of killing young Maddy (even though we know this movie plays by the rules that reassure us that will never happen).
Likewise, seasoned film and television director Gary Fleder approaches the endeavor from a workmanlike perspective, and indulges our bloodlust with the help of editor Padraic McKinley, here discovering his untapped talent for cutting viscerally satisfying fight scenes. For a movie like Homefront that aims to hit all the required action beats, a good editor is a necessity, and despite his background in lighter fare, McKinley proves an adept celluloid percussionist. Watching the film is like listening to a new song that we're somehow able to tap our toes along to. It could be rock, hip-hop, country, or even classical. The genre isn't important, it's the comfort of the tradition that counts.