If Homefront proves anything, it’s that the primary cast of The Expendables are virtually interchangeable. Sylvester Stallone penned the script almost a decade ago with a view to starring in it but at almost 70, the actor has deemed himself too old, instead recruiting his Expendables buddy Jason Statham to step in. Presumably the script stayed exactly the same as Homefront is reminiscent of a pulpy 90s thriller that wouldn’t look out of place on the filmography of Stallone, Willis or Rourke.
Statham stars as Phil Broker, a former DEA agent who, after an undercover mission gone awry saw the son of a gang leader killed, is attempting to get a fresh start in a small Louisana town with his young daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic). When Maddy beats up the school bully, Broker finds himself involved in a petty feud with local junkie Cassie Bodine (Kate Bosworth) and her dangerous meth dealer brother Gator (James Franco), which drags up the parts of his past he’d rather stay away from.
The story is the stuff of any number of B-movie thrillers but the script makes some unexpected choices, particularly with the characters. Kate Bosworth’s character could’ve been a one-dimensional white trash trope but later in the film proves to be more rounded than at first glance. Similarly Gator, who could’ve been just another cardboard cut out drug dealer, comes across as more savvy than that, putting business first and trying to stay out of the feud until a business opportunity presents itself. Franco’s performance would be at home in a better film, packing more nuance and restraint than the rest of the film manages, particularly in a final third that borders on manic.
The lead role doesn’t exactly stretch Statham’s abilities but he delivers exactly what’s asked of him: a reluctant hero who just wants to be left alone but ends up dragged into violent situations. His accent is problematic, starting off vaguely American before defaulting back to his usual London accent, and any scenes that involve emoting are borderline cringe worthy but his tough guy act is believable and he manages to convince in the action scenes.
Unfortunately director Gary Fleder is far from an assured hand when it comes to staging action, favouring the increasingly tedious shaky cam style in such an extreme fashion that it’s often impossible to tell what’s going on. Given that the third act occurs in the dark, it’s even harder to discern what’s going on during the film’s biggest set pieces. There are also pacing issues, with the first half taking a little too long to get anywhere without really achieving anything else like building tension or establishing character.
Nonetheless, the swampy locales and grimy characters create a strong sense of setting and the performances are all on point – including Winona Ryder as a conniving meth groupie – making Homefront an enjoyable if slightly meat-and-potatoes throwback to old school thrillers.