**/**** Image A Sound A- Extras C+
starring Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Izabela Vidovic
screenplay by Sylvester Stallone, based on the novel by Chuck Logan
directed by Gary Fleder
by Bill Chambers After a drug bust goes farcically awry, undercover DEA agent--and ex-soldier, natch--Phil Broker (Jason Statham) retreats to rural Louisiana with his little girl, Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), hoping to give her a peaceful life raising horses while he makes ends meet as a carpenter. But like father, like daughter: When the school bully pushes Maddy too far on the playground one day, she fights back with a few Bourne-worthy movies, setting off a chain reaction that leads the boy's humiliated, meth-head mother (Kate Bosworth) to sic her swamp kingpin brother Gator (James Franco) on Broker, who proves so invincible against all comers that it piques Gator's curiosity. Some (too) light snooping on his part uncovers Broker's former identity, and he enlists his girlfriend (Winona Ryder--the film has an eclectic cast, to say the least) to rat Broker out to the biker gang that's looking for him. All because of an altercation on a schoolyard.
That's the sort of jejune irony that draws screenwriter Sylvester Stallone like a moth to a flame. The rare movie he scripted but did not likewise direct or star in, Homefront also gives Stallone away by being a slave to trend a few steps behind the vanguard in pantomiming popular entertainments like "Sons of Anarchy" and "Breaking Bad", and by finally being a bit too grandiose for its own good. At its best, the film plays like Stallone comrade Arnold Schwarzenegger's Commando if Alyssa Milano hadn't been kidnapped--just a tree trunk and his daughter trying to enjoy simple country pleasures without any vendettas getting in the way. There's a small part of me that wished Homefront was entirely the two of them petting their cat and throwing birthday parties and ingratiating themselves with Maddy's vivacious teacher (Rachelle Lefevre), at the risk of this becoming a Nicholas Sparks joint. Statham, as Safe established, makes for a charming father figure, and Vidovic elicits paternal feelings that clarify the threat Gator and co. represent, especially when she tearfully opens up to Phil that sometimes she misses her late mother so much her stomach hurts. The notion that this sweet kid could be orphaned indirectly--okay, passive-aggressively--ratchets up the tension. Chaplin would be proud.
Lefevre, for what it's worth, is again reduced to a colourful prop, although there's something refreshingly unconventional about her character's flirtation with Broker never exceeding a low-level background simmer. Statham is Statham; it's satisfying to watch various roughnecks pick fights with the unassuming Broker and realize they don't stand a chance against him based on nothing more than Statham's wily screen persona. One of the primal pleasures of movies is to have that kind of anticipatory shorthand with an actor, and Statham has reached the movie-star sweet spot where he doesn't even need to attempt an accent, because who are we kidding? He's the perfect Stallone/Schwarzenegger surrogate, in that sense. Franco, too, brings a lot of baggage to the film, but of the offscreen variety. It's easy to spend much of his performance distractedly parsing his ulterior motive for taking a supporting role in a formula shitkicker. (That's the hazard of putting quotation marks around half of what you do.) Bosworth and Ryder are both very good as de facto prom queens who've seen better days; while I don't want to speculate on their identification with the material, there's real pathos to their work here. Bosworth's eroded beauty is bound to get the most attention, yet Ryder's turn as a vaguely pathetic cougar is no less free of vanity, nay, ego.
Ryder is gifted with one of the best moments in the picture, certainly one of the most eccentric, as she tries not to get manhandled by a creep (Frank Grillo) at a crayfish shack because she's allergic to shellfish. Director Gary Fleder choreographs this well, mining suspense and sympathy from her squirminess. Fleder is otherwise his usual meat-and-potatoes self, albeit fixated on an experimental flourish in which shards of one scene penetrate another, predicting an upcoming transition. (It loses its novelty, fast.) He's lucky to have Miracle Mile DP Theo Van De Sande, who gives everything a daunting slickness, and production designer Greg Berry, who subtly mirrors the accoutrements of the meth lab in the coloured bottles dangling from trees on Broker's property, showing how corruptible is this pretense of Americana. And Stallone and Statham harmonize some absurdly satisfying/satisfyingly absurd action set-pieces, such as Broker taking out a gang of thugs with both hands literally tied behind his back. No doubt Stallone had that one in his back pocket for a while. But the climax is a muddle and borderline preachy, with the grown-ups learning a valuable lesson from the generous innocence of their children and, worse, meth making a roaring narrative comeback in a non-abstract form to turn Gator into a werewolf. If only drugs were to blame for the black guy (Omar Benson Miller) dutifully sacrificing himself for our white hero, but, no, that's just showbiz. For more screengrabs visit our Tumblr.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Universal's catalogue titles are the pits but their new releases are state-of-the-art. Shot in HD with the ARRI Alexa, Homefront comes to Blu-ray in a glassy 2.40:1, 1080p presentation. Colours are bright and sulphuric, dynamic range is broad, and a fine layer of noise or faux-grain provides the image a cinematic texture that undercuts its glossiness. For all that, there could be more detail in the shadows and, putting aside Van De Sande's trademark blown-out whites, the highlights, though I suspect these are complaints to be levelled at digital cinematography--which has a few nagging hurdles to overcome--rather than the transfer or the AVC encode. The attendant 5.1 DTS-HD MA track showcases a loud, not particularly nuanced mix with clarity and depth. Extras are limited to a 3-minute, HiDef trailer for Homefront embellished with soundbites ("These are swamp people, it's the Wild West out there," says Stallone, throwing Louisiana under the bus) plus a block of four uneventful deleted scenes (9 mins., HD) that includes a gratuitously extended, feel-good ending. Semi-forced, dynamically-selected HD previews for Schwarzenegger's Sabotage, The Best Man's Holiday, Rush, 47 Ronin, Ride-Along, Jobs, End of Watch, Hit and Run, The Host, Machete Kills, Side Effects, The Grey, and The Killer Elite cue up on startup. The disc is bundled with the obligatory DVD and Ultraviolet copies of the film.