There are things you expect to see in a Jason Statham movie, and 2012's Homefront has those things: kicks, headbutts, armbars, heads smashed through car windows, weary neck-stretches, imperiled little kids, muttered warnings not to fuck with Jason Statham. It also has James Franco banging Winona Ryder against the hood of an old car, which is probably not something you'd expect in this environment. This is, in a lot of ways, a perfectly generic and satisfying low-budget action flick. But it also has a cast that's almost hilariously overqualified: Franco, Ryder, a convincingly meth-y Kate Bosworth, Frank Grillo in the exact moment just before everyone in Hollywood realized that Frank Grillo is awesome. I like to imagine that someone worked to convince all these legit actors that it would be fun to be in a Jason Statham movie. And they're right. It would totally be fun to be in a Jason Statham movie.
Homefront also has a possibly overqualified screenwriter: Sylvester Stallone, who, as you'll recall, got an Oscar nomination for writing Rocky. Apparently, Stallone originally developed the original 2009 Chuck Logan novel as a rebooted Rambo project. It's not hard to imagine that. In fact, with minor adjustments, this movie could've belonged to practically any action star of the past 40 years: Joe Don Baker, Fred Williamson, Charles Bronson, Steven Seagal, Don "The Dragon" Wilson. But Statham, all coiled rage and grim determination, might be better for the part than any of them.
Our hero starts the movie off as a Louisiana cop undercover in a drug-smuggling biker gang. He's got a terrible long-hair situation despite the very-receded hairline, which shows how devoted he was to his cover. But the bikers don't act like there's anything weird about his British accent, and neither do the cops. Other than a quick montage flash of what looks like an Interpol badge, none of the characters, including the suspicious-of-outsiders types in the small Southern town where Statham moves, seems to think there's anything even slightly off about the fact that he's British. It's great. As with his New York cop role in Safe (his best movie, no offense to this one), it harkens back to the era when Arnold Schwarzenegger could play a Southern small-town sheriff with a thick Austrian accent, and we'd all just go with it.
After that whole biker-gang adventure, Statham moves himself and his daughter to the tiny hamlet where his dead wife grew up. They're happy there for about 30 seconds before a school bully steals the daughter's hat and she has to fuck him up. (Warning: There's a regrettable amount of terrible kid-acting in this movie.) That leads to the kid's parents getting pissed at Statham, which leads to Statham having to fuck the bully's dad up in front of everyone. A whole lot of Homefront, in fact, involves a reluctant Statham having to fuck some people up. They'll stare down at him, get up in his personal space, and drawl something vaguely threatening, and he'll go through the perfunctory "No, please don't do that" stuff before snapping and leaving a bunch of injured yokels screaming on the ground.
The movie works because this guy is really good at those "No, please don't do that" moments. It's a Jason Statham movie, so you want to see him fuck some people up, and it's enormously satisfying when he does. But you also feel for this guy who's just trying to make a new life for himself, and who knows that he's putting his kid in danger every time he has to go all Statham on somebody. Eventually, Franco comes into the picture as a small-time meth cook with the truly awesome character name of Gator Bodine. He's the brother of Kate Bosworth, the angry and strung-out mother of that bully kid. By the time, he gets involved, Statham has made amends with the offended parties, and they've moved on. But when Franco figures out that Statham is in hiding and that he can make some money by alerting malicious biker gangs of his presence, our man finally gets into the sort of situation where he's trading bullets and jiu-jitsu holds with Frank Grillo.
Franco, and Ryder as his girlfriend, aren't criminal masterminds: They're fuckups who make terrible decisions in just about every high-pressure situation. They even have flashes of conscience, though those flashes tend to arrive at bad moments. In a way, they're more effective villains than the snarling-Russian-gangster types that Statham so often faces in his movies. Complete idiots, after all, can be so much more dangerous than the rare people who enjoy playing the villain role. And while Franco never goes full slimeball, his presence as the movie's bad guy means you know Statham's going to slap this piss out of him eventually, thus living out the fantasy of everyone who watched The Interview.
The actual action in Homefront is nothing special. Director Gary Fleder is a competent hack whose career peaked with the episode of Homicide: Life on the Street where Vincent D'Onofrio gets trapped under a subway car. His fights tend to be quick-cut jumbles with no real sense of pacing, and that's fine when Statham is taking five seconds to dismantle a small battalion of backwoods goons. But a Statham/Grillo fight should be a classic, and Fleder isn't up to making it one.
Still, the movie sucks you in because of the characters. Even the cardboard-cutout villain-henchman types have motivations: They're avenging wounded pride or perceived betrayal. Franco brags about kicking meth and then falls off the wagon when shit gets stressful; even as he's speeding off to do villainous things at the end, he's protesting that he never wanted any of this. The movie's focus is small and specific: Statham is trying to keep his kid safe, not defuse a city-detonating bomb or whatever. And there's a real satisfaction in seeing him overcome the odds stacked up in front of him.
Next summer, Statham will take on his biggest-ever franchise-movie role, doing villain duties in Furious 7. I can't wait for that, and I'm curious to see him in the Melissa McCarthy/Paul Feig action-comedy Spy that's coming after that. But I hope he keeps making time for movies like Homefront, fun and formulaic little genre exercises that tend to be better than anyone gives them credit for being. Right now, he's the only person making movies like this and getting them any sort of theatrical release. If we lose him, the B-movie world will be a whole lot worse off.
Tom Breihan is the senior editor at Stereogum; he's written for Pitchfork, the Village Voice, GQ, Grantland, and the Classical. He lives in Charlottesville, Va. He is tall, and on Twitter.
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