Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay for Homefront — the story of a former DEA agent who quits his job and moves to a small town under a new identity — with the intention to star in the film himself as the closing chapter of the Rambo saga. But the project stalled, Stallone got too old and he ditched the Rambo stuff and handed the lead over to Jason Statham.
Statham is the rare breed of action star who not only does most of his stunts and is a pleasure to watch kicking butt, but can act, too. He tries his best here, as he always does, to make you believe in Phil, the retired narc who has set up home in a remote Louisiana town with his 10-year-old daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic). Father and daughter go on a lot of horse rides in the placid countryside and spend quality time together. Phil has also taught his daughter to defend herself, and after she beats up a bully at school, the boy’s angry drug-addict mom (an emaciated Kate Bosworth), indignant and wanting payback, sets off a series of events that brings Phil to the attention of the local meth lord Gator (James Franco) and his band of dangerous cronies, including a ruined-beauty biker girl (Winona Ryder).
Homefront is based on a novel by Chuck Logan, who cleverly spun an everyday occurrence, a schoolyard scrap, into an increasingly dangerous situation that spirals out of control. But the movie, directed by Gary Fleder (Runaway Jury, Don’t Say a Word) with all the style of a late-night infomercial, never builds the slightest bit of suspense. Statham is such an efficient killing machine, there’s never a moment in the movie when you doubt he’ll best the baddies (in one scene, he takes out five guys with his hands literally tied behind his back). Franco, who brought so much dynamic weirdness to the role of Alien in Spring Breakers, looks as engaged here as he did while hosting the Oscars: Gator is the least threatening villain since Demi Moore’s would-be badass in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (in several scenes, he looks like he was just roused from a nap in his trailer and called onto the set).
The movie has some nice touches, such as a small-town sheriff (Clancy Brown) who is neither corrupt nor useless, and the usually glamorous Bosworth is surprisingly convincing as the white-trash mom whose usual state of mind is one of blind fury. But Homefront is done in by uninspired action scenes in which Statham’s athletic prowess is rendered unwatchable by hyper-editing, a shameful reliance on child-in-peril cliches to move the story forward, and so many loose ends that you wonder if 20 minutes were accidentally cut out from the movie.
Much is made of the widowed Phil’s flirtations with Maddy’s teacher (Rachelle Lefevre), but the subplot goes absolutely nowhere: It’s just dropped, as if it never happened. Even though he’s living under an alias, Phil somehow decides it’s a good idea to keep all the case files from his time with the DEA in the basement of his home, because … well, why? And although Maddy makes a big fuss after Gator steals her beloved cat Luther (”I can’t sleep without him!”) Homefront completely forgets about the animal halfway through, never to reappear. I kept waiting for Luther’s triumphant return near the end of the film, but no. Maybe the cat got the sense halfway through filming that the movie was a dog and simply bailed out. You should, too.
Cast: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Izabela Vidovic, Clancy Brown, Rachelle Lefevre.
Director: Gary Fleder.
Screenwriter: Sylvester Stallone. Based on the novel by Chuck Logan.
Producers: Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King Templeton, John Thompson.
An Open Road Films release. Running time: 100 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, drug use, adult themes. Opens Wednesday Nov. 27 at area theaters.