' Cinema Romantico: Homefront

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Homefront

While “Homefront” may have been directed by Gary Fleder, it was written by Sylvester Stallone, and this shows in the way it feels leftover and freeze-dried from the 1980’s, born of such rough & tumble Me Decade rural action opuses like “Next of Kin” and “Road House.” Don’t presume it coincidence that the main character’s undercover code name is……Dalton. In fact, there was often talk of a Stallone/Schwarzenegger vehicle, which came never to fruition, but which is apropos because often “Homefront” feels like the belated sequel to Schwarzenegger’s “Commando” (1985). That’s a film that finds Arnie as John Matrix, retired Army colonel, living in isolation with his precocious daughter Jenny to protect himself from rabid enemies. Those rabid enemies kidnap his daughter and, thus, he travels to South America to get her back. “Homefront” acts in reverse, with Jason Statham as retired DEA agent Phil Broker, living in isolation in Louisiana with his precocious daughter Maddy to protect himself from rabid enemies. Those rabid enemies eventually ferret him out and attack and, thus, he stands up to defend his Homefront.


Fleder, however, more recently a middle-of-the-road professional (“The Express”, “Runaway Jury”) insistently attempts to dress up the film as Bayou Tony Scott, handheld camera and overeager cutting, overburdening its reflective moments with heaps of style, when an approach more reminiscent of its 1980’s forefathers would have gone a long way in strengthening its tone. Even so, Fleder, unintentional or not, pulls out two spectacular shots that underline the deviously tongue-in-cheek undercurrent of portions of the film. First, is a crate piled high with bags of precious meth offset by a Mountain Dew can in the forefront. Second, is the main character and chief heavy having a face-to-face, heart-to-heart in a local café with a wild west, Monument Valley-esque mural in the background that momentarily re-casts them as the White Hat and the Black Hat. If the whole film had been this way, “Homefront” might have had a long life on TNT Saturday afternoons. Instead it will have to make do with being generally blasé and sporadically joyous.

“Homefront’s” problem and blessing, in fact, is the heavies often seem more interesting – well, more loony, which makes them more interesting – than the off-the-rack father/daughter relationship meant as the focal point. Statham’s awkwardness is intended, raising his daughter all alone, but too often his performance strikes the wrong note of awkward. There are also occasional hints of a Big Daddy/Hit Girl relationship here, such as when Maddy makes like Daddy at school, employing a bit of Statham-Fu on a bully, but they never quite take flight beyond that bit of plot-instigation.

Much more fascinating is this backwoods family that becomes Broker’s adversaries. The classmate Maddy injures is the son of the sister, Cassie (Kate Bosworth), of the town’s meth king, Gator Bodine (James Franco), and so sister begs brother to teach out-of-towner a lesson. Franco, playing a meth cooker named Gator the same year he played a drug dealer named Alien, was but a stock-broker named Ryan away from playing the tri-headed monster of American Capitalism over the course of twelve months. File it under missed opportunities. Nevertheless, he brings a comic glint to his eye, as he often does, the whole performance feeling like a put-on because the character itself is a put-on, a small-timer who wants to be big. He desires statewide distribution for his operation, and that’s why he comes to view his sister’s pleas to confront Broker as more than just a nuisance. Through a little cinematic snooping (i.e. Happen Upon A Box Of Files In The Basement And Find The File Revealing A Character’s Entire Backstory), he learns Broker’s dirty little secret and intends to use it against him.


The scheme, which allows for Statham to do as Statham does, involves threats and intimidation – “Country payback” as the Token Black Guy (Omar Benson Miller) puts it – and an old Gator ally, Sheryl Mott. She is played by Winona Ryder. No one does the Panic Eyes like Winona and she imbues her eyes in nearly every scene with the twitchy panic of a methhead – in over her head but swept up in Gator’s laconic fury nonetheless. There is a righteous moment near the end when a character’s cellphone becomes a beacon which might seem a screenwriting convenience, except that Ryder has laid the groundwork throughout to make you fully believe she would forget to confiscate the cellphone. Her character is also referenced as having been busted for trying to smuggle drugs into Angola, which seems like fodder for a comic movie offshoot. To paraphrase Bridget Fonda talking to Robert DeNiro in “Jackie Brown”...“If you aren't the biggest fuck-up I've ever met in my entire life. How did you ever smuggle drugs into Angola?”

Statham’s character is an interloper in this back country and, really, he becomes an interloper in the movie. The obligatory action-packed climax almost – almost!!! – turns on a different character, the local sheriff (Clancy Brown), making amends, only to cop out at the last second because, of course, Clancy Brown doesn’t have top billing. So it goes. These meth addicts, stomping, squabbling, are more intriguing to watch than the hero, and, as such, the most intriguing character of them all sort of gets forgotten.

Kate Bosworth is not becoming in this movie. She is frightening to look at, a long-gone junkie, rail thin and consumed by the desperation of another fix. The family business has made her into this racing-mind monster and essentially abandons her when her problem gets too deep. Somewhere in there, amidst all the mechanized plotting and handheld camera work, however, Cassie cries out for help. No one listens. Why would they when there’s meth to make and skulls to crack and “Road House” is on TNT again?

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