Watching “Homefront” is a bit like stepping through a time warp to the exploitation action movies of the seventies and eighties. The tale of a man stalked by evildoers who takes them all on when they threaten his darling daughter is so old-fashioned that you might suspect that Sylvester Stallone, who wrote the simpleminded script, had originally concocted it as a post-“Rocky” vehicle for himself back in 1977, only to toss it into a drawer when other projects beckoned, passing the musty throwback along to Jason Statham now.
But you’d be wrong. The screenplay is actually an adaptation of a 2005 novel by the prolific Chuck Logan. But Stallone has made major changes to it. He’s jettisoned Nina Pryce, the ex-army wife of hero Phil Broker, from the family mix, simplifying things by making the character a grieving widower (and thus not having to share the action with an equally strong female), and relocated the action from the upper Midwest—Minnesota and Michigan—to the Louisiana bayous (perhaps to take advantage of the state’s tax breaks for local film production). And apart from the cellphones that are occasionally displayed, the result could have played out thirty-five years ago.
Broker (Statham, his usual intense but stolid self) is an underground cop who takes down a motorcycle gang chief/drug kingpin named Danny T (Chuck Zito) in a sting operation in which the guy’s wild-eyed son gets himself killed. (The boss is obviously a pretty dim bulb, since he doesn’t see anything peculiar in the fact that his trusted aide wears a wig that looks as though it had been lifted from a mannequin at J.C. Penny.) Anyway, to protect his daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) from the gang’s retaliation, Broker relocates to small-town Rayville, Louisiana, where the tyke runs afoul of a bullying classmate named Klum. When she decks the brat, his mother (Kate Bosworth, doing a hopped-up white trash routine with abandon) asks her ne’er-do-well brother Gator Bodine (James Franco, looking sleepily bored), the town’s small-time dope-dealer, to teach Broker a lesson after Phil hauls off on her bellicose hubby (Marcus Hester) too.
Gator’s enforcers—a pair of redneck boobs—are sent to beat Broker up, but he trashes them instead. That leads Gator himself out to the Broker homestead, where he steals little Maddy’s cat and stuffed bunny to put fear into her and her dad. (He also slashes one of Broker’s tires. He’s a real mean dude.) But meandering through Broker’s unpacked papers while Phil and Maddy are out horseback riding, Gator conveniently stumbles upon documents revealing his police background (our hero, it appears, isn’t much smarter than the villains, keeping such stuff around while he’s trying to conceal his identity—he apparently doesn’t even change his name).
Gator senses a potential windfall here. Using barmaid Sheryl (haggard Winona Ryder) as a go-between, he approaches the imprisoned Danny’s lawyer (Pruitt Taylor Vince, in a forgettable cameo) to offer his client Broker’s location in return for a business partnership. Soon a deranged killer (Frank Grillo) rides into town with his posse of hit-men, planning a night-time assault on the Broker homestead, which Phil defends with all the macho expertise at his command. Sheryl, however, manages to cart off Maddy, who winds up as Gator’s hostage in a final showdown.
This denouement is spelled out not as a spoiler—there’s absolutely nothing in “Homefront” that’s in the least unpredictable—but to indicate how low Stallone’s script sinks, finally employing child endangerment as a plot device to rev up emotion. But that’s just the last and ugliest in its long series of clichés. Gator, for example, is introduced beating up a bunch of teenagers who have had the temerity to brew some of their own drugs in a deserted house. And then there are the characters of the vaguely corrupt town sheriff, played by Clancy Brown in what seems a reprise of his role in “Pet Sematary II,” of the affable friend (Omar Benson Miller) who’s obviously fated to fall afoul of the bad guys, and of the pretty school psychologist (Rachel Lefevre), who will take a shine to Phil and Maddy (though nothing comes of it, at least this time around).
And, of course, plenty of action sequences occur preparatory to the inevitable last-act chase and face-off, from the literally explosive drug bust at the beginning through a supremely silly torture sequence in which a trussed-up Broker nonetheless beats down all of Gator’s henchmen, to the inept attack on the Broker house. Some of these might have been exciting if director Gary Fleder, cinematographer Theo Van De Sande and editor Padraic McKinley hadn’t conspired to give them all a murky, messy look that’s more likely to cause eyestrain than raise your blood pressure. Otherwise the picture is technically proficient, though Mark Isham’s score opts for bombast too readily.
As for Statham, his fans will probably find him satisfactory here, even though the script forces him into low-key mode compared to his other action flicks and he has a hard time managing the father-daughter bond with young Vidovic.
“Homefront” winds up as a distinctly old-fashioned, by-the-numbers actioner that breaks no new ground and treads familiar territory without much dash. In 1978 it might have mustered an audience, but in today’s market it seems hopelessly out of date.