It’s a theme with enough intrinsic promise to lend itself to many variations, from the profane to the profanely sublime: a man with a troubled or violent past seeks peace and redemption in a new life, a new place. Usually in a small town off the beaten path. A History of Violence, for example, reaches for something high and succeeds. Homefront is an entertaining action movie, and that’s all it cares to be. And that’s alright with me.
Homefront has some ambition. It benefits from good performances, kick-ass action sequences, nice scenery that’s unique to Louisiana, just a touch of intricacy in the narrative so it’s never boring, and a suspenseful sense of a coming climactic finale – not to mention an outstanding Louisiana blues to open the show. But it was just a little logically challenged at times – almost comically so in the school incident that sets the whole thing in motion. Later, in consecutive scenes, one of the bad guys undergoes a sudden and quizzical attack of conscience. One minute he has to be restrained from shooting Brokers daughter, she being a witness. Moments later, in a different location, he can hardly bring himself to raise his voice at her. Maybe the scenes were shot on different days and he had an intervening character identity crises. Then, of course, there’s the ‘kitty in distress factor’. All of these action hero brutes are suckers for any little furry creature in trouble. They melt with maudlin sentimentality at the sight of a big-eyed adorable little kitty about to scamper into the danger zone, and give the villain just the moment he needs to get the upper hand.
Undercover supercop, Phil Broker, credibly played by action star Jason Statham, flees the mayhem and violence of the big city meth world for – that’s right – the mayhem and violence of the small town meth world. Not by choice. Trouble just seems to find some guys. He quits the force after a bust goes bad. Somehow as a civilian he manages to stay out of trouble for two years. We know this because the caption appears on the screen: 2 years later. It’s never clear what he was doing for the last two years but it comes out that he’s “new in town”. It doesn’t take long for this town to show its true colours and you wonder how he ever hoped to find peace in this nasty little place. Broker, a single father, is summoned to the school because his little girl, having been knocked on her ass by a school bully, a stocky little bull of a kid twice her size, responds by having the audacity to practice a little self-defence. The school authorities warn Broker – yeah, that’s right – they warn Broker to restrain his little beast of a daughter. “The school monitor saw her hit him pretty hard, like she knew what she was doing.” And then, “Do you think it’s good teaching your little girl to fight?” In other words, just because she’s a mere wisp of a cutie pie doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be able to take a good left hook with the decorum of a well-behaved Southern lady. The white-trash parents of the bully are demonic with indignant rage, especially the wife, a fire breathing Kate Boswell. She shames her husbands into starting a fight with Broker in the parking lot. He jumps him from behind, and quickly discovers what it’s like to wander blindfolded into a mix-martial arts cage. On the drive home, Boswell, as Sheryl Mott, like a true Spartan wife, offers her husband a few words of sympathy: “You’re a pussy!”
Sheryl’s brother, Morgan ‘Gator’ Bodine, the local meth dealer, played by James Franco, gets involved. Just to “mess with their heads… scare them.” Will it end there? You must be kidding.
So where’s the law around here? Well, that would be one Sheriff Keith Rodrique, the first-rate character actor, Clancy Brown, who pulls Broker over one day and tells him, “There’s one thing you got to know. You got my attention.” Maybe it’s just me, but if a Southern sheriff has that encounter with me – I’m moving. Somewhere safe, like the South Bronx.
Things begin to get ugly. This is good. Otherwise, no movie. Why not go someplace civilised? Someplace with Wi-Fi? One look at the teacher, Miss Hetch, the ravishing Rachelle Lefevre, answers that question. “People talk”, she tells him one day. “They decided you’re a question mark.” In a town like this, that’s a compliment. Apparently, a kind word and a smile from Miss Hetch is all the Louisiana hospitality Broker needs to let the grass grow under his feet. And for some weird reason, his daughter likes the place. I just wish they gave Lefevre more screen time. Too much is happening and there’s just no time for love on the home front.
If life has taught us anything it’s that a troubled past never stays where you left it. And it’s coming for Broker. By invitation. Gang colours and a heart full of vengeance.
Oh, Remember that climactic finale referred to earlier? Screenwriter Sly Stallone had fun with that. We get a triple whammy finale with a chaser and a twist. You’ll know what I mean if you see the movie.
So maybe Homefront never breaks out into the high end of the genre. So what? I enjoyed every minute of it.
Homefront is out on DVD & Blu-ray 31st March 2014.
Director: Gary Fleder
Stars: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder
Runtime 100 min