Sunday, December 1, 2013

'Homefront' (2013) directed by Gary Fleder

They had my ass in the seat at 'Jason Statham versus James Franco'.  Both actors are favourites of mine: Statham for the balls-out craziness of the two Crank films, Franco for the neon-soaked hypnosis of Spring Breakers and his whole jack-of-all-trades art persona. So, you've got Chev Chelios battling Alien over meth in a quiet Louisiana town!  You've even got a supporting turn from Winona Ryder as a raddled, thickly eyelinered biker babe!  Even the script has great action pedigree - adapted by none other than Sylvester 'Sly' Stallone. Surely even the most cackhanded director couldn't screw this up? Just point a camera at these guys, have a gunfight or two, blow some stuff up and - bam - instant cheesy classic.  Right? Wrong.

We begin with a promisingly violent prologue.  Statham is the pleasingly glottal-stop named Broker an undercover cop that's infiltrated a meth-dealing biker gang.  Judging by Statham's dodgy wig and dodgier accent you suspect the gang must be sampling the merchandise a bit as frankly he's not fooling anyone in this getup.  Anyway, things go south quickly and the biker gang's son is shot to bits with satisfyingly squelchy use of squibs and blood bags.

This sort of thing had me primed for a silly and slightly camp cops and robbers tale. Unfortunately once the main plot kicks in, the brakes come on and... nothing much happens. Broker has retired and moved to a small town with his daughter to lie low and give her some semblance of a normal life.  Thankfully by this point Statham is back to his familiar baldy bonce and pissed off London cabbie accent (why an undercover DEA agent talks like he's walked off the streets of Bethnal Green isn't ever touched upon, probably for good reason).

James Franco pictured thinking of his paycheque
His daughter proceeds to make an enemy at school, the miniature tiff spiralling into a full blown feud between Broker and a meth-addled family of rednecks.  They enlist the help of James Franco's Gator, kingpin of this small-town and meth-maker extraordinaire. Gator discover's Broker's undercover past, and before you know it a swarm of angry biker drug dealers are on the way to wreak revenge.  The stage is set for Broker to prove to himself and his daughter that a man's home is his castle, that no meth-dealing local boys can bully him and blah blah blah you get the picture.

On paper this all sounds fun enough.  On screen: surprisingly boring.  Where we want dudes on fire flying through windows we get a fizzled-out romance subplot in a school.  At the moment we expect James Franco to over-act his guts out, he disappears from the movie. Just when the film looks like it's finally going to go freak-out Southern Gothic there's a sun-dappled, idyllic, relaxing horse ride.  This isn't what I signed up for dammit.

If I was directing this film one or both of these horses would be on fire and something would be exploding.
When the film (finally) remembers that it's an action film it's still disappointing.  Simply put, Gary Fleder can't direct action.  At all.  Even something as straightforward as Jason Statham beating up a bunch of dudes in a gas station is completely botched, a flurry of quick cuts and confusing angles obscuring every single bit of choreography.  It gets difficult to say exactly what's going on, the lack of impact meaning the film ends up peculiarly neutered. We see the build-up to a fight and the aftermath, but everything that happens in the middle is edited into incoherence.  

Similarly rubbish are the gun-fights.  What's important to remember is that this film is not exactly high-complexity when it comes to its action sequences.  Five or six baddies with guns trying to invade a house with an angry Jason Statham inside is probably covered in chapter one of How Not To Make Shitty Action Films.  But once more, Fleder fumbles the ball - the scene taking place with close to zero sense of spatial geography and surprises. 

The actors seem to sense that this isn't going so well.  Statham quickly slips into a standard gritted teeth patter with none of the 'human hard-on with a bonkers blood lust' that characterises his best roles.  Even worse, James Franco has obviously completely checked out - the contrast between the joyfully defined and magnetic Alien of Spring Breakers and whatever Gator is supposed to be is like night and day.  A diner scene where the two meet that could have been a (sort of) modern equivalent to De Niro and Pacino having a coffee in Heat is, in line with rest of the film, dull dull DULL.  Only the women in the film come out with a performance worthy of any praise.  Kate Bosworth gives her role as a  supermean meth Mum a decent bit of angry welly, and Winona Ryder manages to salvage something touching from a rather under-written supporting part.

What should be a clash of the titans is a wet-rag polite disagreement.  Boooooo!  BOOOO!
Most of the time Homefront looks and feels like something that really should be going straight to video, a cheapness to proceedings stretching through production design, costuming and special effects.  Particularly egregious is an atrocious looking CG car crash - it speaks volumes about how much passion a director is investing in an action film that he can't even be bothered to flip a police car over for real.  By the underwhelming end of the film both myself, the actors in the film and most of the people behind the camera had obviously checked out - everyone just wanting to get this shite over with.

To squander the talents of Jason Statham and James Franco is a crime against the action genre.  When both men are on their A-game it's electrifying stuff, and there's no reason that the basic plot and setting of Homefront shouldn't allow them to bring it.  The only reasonable conclusion then, is that Gary Fleder is a godawful director and shouldn't be allowed anywhere near an action film again in his life.  This could have been great but it just sucks -and worse, it doesn't even suck interestingly. Shame on you Gary Fleder.  Shame on you.

Homefront is on general release from December 6th.

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