Action Book Adaptation

Born on the Bayou Film Review: Homefront

November 25, 2013Ben MK

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Guns, gangs and Gator

As unlikely as it seemed at the outset, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme were quintessential American action heroes in the '80s and '90s. And if you think about it, Jason Statham is following that same path, having starred in numerous solo outings where he single-handedly takes down wave after wave of opponents -- usually aided only by his fists and a handful of firearms. In his latest action foray, Homefront, he plays an undercover DEA agent who does exactly that, going head-to-head against organized crime in a sleepy, rural Southern community.

Statham is Phil Broker, a DEA agent trying to keep a low profile in the backwater Southern town of Rayville, Louisiana. His previous assignment infiltrating a gang of bikers and drug traffickers, calling themselves the Outcasts, has landed him on their hit list, and he's hoping to get a fresh start by going unnoticed among the locals. With his young daughter, Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), in tow, he tries to navigate life there and blend in. But, being Jason Statham, that's easier said than done; and even if Broker's not looking for trouble, trouble finds him. When Maddy takes a stand against a schoolyard bully, it draws the ire of the bully's mother (Kate Bosworth) and puts Broker on the radar of Gator Bodine (James Franco), the bully's uncle -- who just happens to be the local methamphetamine kingpin. When Gator discovers Broker's true identity, he seizes the opportunity to strike a deal with the Outcasts, offering up Broker and his daughter to them in exchange for an opportunity to grow his drug empire. But, naturally, Broker isn't going down without a fight, and Gator and the Outcasts soon learn that they picked the wrong man to tangle with.

Much like 2012's Jack Reacher, the source material for Homefront comes from a long-running book series. The film was adapted for the screen by none other than the Demolition Man himself, Sylvester Stallone, from the sixth and final novel in the Phil Broker series by author Chuck Logan. And just as Jack Reacher was in many ways a throwback to classic action movies, so too is Homefront -- evoking the tried and true action tropes of the loner hero who's new in town and just trying to protect his family. It's easy to imagine that, had it been made twenty years ago with Van Damme in the title role, the storyline could have gone without a single alteration and still wouldn't have missed a beat (although it may have needed a few more splits). But even though the action scenes are well-choreographed and fairly thrilling -- with every punch, kick and shotgun blast connecting with audiences in a visceral way -- there's nothing particularly unique about them that will resonate once the closing credits begin to roll.

The cast, on the other hand, is another story; and they're the best thing about the director Gary Fleder's film. Joining Statham, Bosworth and Franco are Winona Ryder, Frank Grillo and Clancy Brown -- an impressive cast, all things considered. While Statham assumes his usual action persona, Franco is back in villain mode and clearly relishing it, following up his recent role as gangster Alien in Spring Breakers with another scowly performance. Otherwise, there aren't too many opportunities for the rest of the cast to shine; but newcomer Izabela Vidovic manages to break through, making an impression as Broker's headstrong daughter and holding her own among the other, more seasoned actors.

The Bottom Line

Homefront is fronted by a stellar cast, but shotgun-wielding drug dealers and bikers aren't its only enemies. Hindered by a middle of the road storyline and lacking that certain quality that would make it truly memorable, it's certainly a serviceable entry in the action genre that should please those looking for a big screen brawl; but it doesn't pack enough firepower to differentiate itself from the competition. Having said that, if you're a fan of the Phil Broker books, you may still want to check it out. [★★★]

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