By now, you'd think the bad guys would know not to tangle with any character played by Jason Statham. (Especially when the screenplay was penned by Sylvester Stallone.)
Phil Broker wants nothing more than to disappear with his daughter, Maddy, into the backwoods of Louisiana's bayou country. A former undercover DEA agent responsible for bringing a nefarious biker/drug lord named Danny T. to justice, Broker longs to leave his violent, dangerous life behind. (And he needs a chance to properly mourn for his wife, who recently passed.) To that end, he's purchased an aging mansion outside of Rayville, La., along with a couple of horses he looks forward to riding through the cypress trees with Maddy, the apple of his eye.
The peace and quiet doesn't last long, of course. It can't in a Jason Statham movie. So cue the conflict. Then the escalation.
It all starts when a bully at Maddy's school tries to take her hat at recess one day. Twice Maddy calmly asks him to stop. Twice he ignores her. Twice she unloads on the little thug, bloodying his face.
Escalation No. 1: The boy's mother, Cassie Bodine, is a taut, unstable and violently aggressive meth addict. She orders her cowardly husband to confront Broker—an order that results in Broker embarrassing the family's honor further.
Escalation No. 2: Not content to let it go, Cassie contacts her brother, Gator, who mostly spends his time cooking massive amounts of methamphetamine. Gator assures his twitching, addicted sister that he'll let Broker know in no uncertain terms where he stands in the insular town's pecking order.
Escalation No. 3: Three thugs accost Broker at a gas station. Gator figures that should get the job done. It doesn't.
Escalation No. 4: Gator breaks into the Brokers' house, steals Maddy's favorite stuffed animal and her cat, and … learns that Broker was the "snitch" who put Danny T. in prison. It just so happens that Gator's on-again-off-again girlfriend, Sheryl, used to run with Danny T.'s gang.
Escalation No. 5: Danny's murderous thugs ride into Rayville with Sheryl as their guide. And they've got vengeance in their veins.
But even five big steps into this retaliation arms race, nobody seems to understand just how bad an idea it is to escalate against Phil Broker.
After school one day, Maddy has a conversation with her dad about the word grace, which she says is one of her vocabulary words in English. Maddy concludes, "I think Mom had that." And she says of her deceased mother, "I miss her so much my stomach hurts," then tells her dad, "I get this feeling that she worries about you and that she wants you to be happy."
Indeed, Broker just wants to devote himself to giving his daughter a good life in the wake of his wife's passing. But Maddy's dust-up with Cassie's bullying son makes that impossible. Trouble keeps finding the Brokers, even as they do their best to avoid it. And that's the positive here: Broker really isn't looking for trouble. He defends himself, and he's determined to protect Maddy. (The result is crazy awful, though. More on that in "Violent Content.")
Broker's lone guy friend is a man named Tito, who's helping renovate the dilapidated mansion. Tito tries to coach Broker on the region's cultural norms, and eventually warns him of the marauding biker gang's presence. (He's nearly killed for his heroic efforts.)
Meanwhile, Broker nurtures a friendship (and possibly a budding romance, though things never get that far) with Maddy's school psychologist, Susan Hatch. She echoes some of Tito's advice, talking about the townspeople holding grudges and prodding Broker to do what he can to mend things with Cassie's family.
Broker dutifully makes nice and apologizes, going so far as to invite Maddy's bully to her 10th birthday party. And Cassie does finally show a softening of her heart, trying to help rescue Maddy from Gator's cruel clutches in the end.
A note about bullying: It's implied that Cassie's son has become a bully in large part because he's confused and scared by his mother's erratic personality and drug addiction. In that sense, the movie realistically depicts the destructive influence of an unhealthy parent's addictive choices on a child.
A short scene shot from some distance away pictures a mostly clothed couple having sex against a car. (It includes explicit movements and sounds.) A scantily clad stripper is briefly visible in the background at a seedy bar. Cassie's shirts reveal cleavage.
The film opens with a bloodbath. (It closes with one and inserts a few more in the middle, too, but we'll get to those in a bit.) As federal agents fight Danny T.'s "Outlaw" motorcycle gang, many men on both sides fall to gunshot blasts before the meth lab behind a biker bar explodes. (Later, Gator's meth lab also explodes.) One man's body in particular is pumped full of bullets, generating a great deal of onscreen gore and blood. Broker chases down the escaping Danny T. (and his son), shooting the younger criminal in the leg. (The bloody results are graphically displayed.)
Broker takes it to the vengeful bad guys on several occasions, putting one in a chokehold, bashing another's head into a gas pump, and smashing a third's head through a car window. The men later return the "favor" when they catch Broker at Gator's boat house and meth lab, severely beating him (hitting him in the face with rebar), tying him up and dunking his face repeatedly in a bucket full of water. When Broker gets the chance to turn the tables once again, he savagely lays into them, flaying them with fists, feet and body blows. He pins one man's hand to a wooden post with a screwdriver and stomps another in the face while he's underwater.
As mentioned, Maddy punches the schoolyard bully twice in the face. Gator brutally takes a baseball bat to a teen. Tito stabs and kills a man with a pitchfork … before getting shot himself. A furious gun battle ensues, and Broker shoots one guy in the head right in front of his daughter. He stabs another repeatedly with a large knife. Maddy is kidnapped. Cassie gets shot in the stomach.
A car chase leads to final showdown between Broker and Gator. Broker rams Gator's head into a bridge's steel grate repeatedly. And he's poised to shoot the man in the head when he looks up and sees his daughter watching. He relents, telling Gator, "She just saved your life."
Crude or Profane Language
At least 125 f-words, including a dozen mashed up with "mother." Thirty or so s-words. God's name is abused 15 or more times, with all but two or three paired with "d‑‑n." Jesus' name is profaned once. Vulgarities include "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n," "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑" and "p‑‑‑y." Sheryl is called "retarded."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Three different meth labs are shown. Various folks (including a group of teens in a backwoods shack) smoke the resulting toxic drug. Gator has a huge stash of the stuff in plastic-encased bricks, and he and Sheryl are angling to become the main meth distributors for the entire state of Louisiana.
Those who are hooked on the drug are repeatedly called "tweekers." And Cassie's serious meth habit is evidenced in part by her emaciated body and fidgety, feral presence. She's so bad off that even Gator seems to be trying to reduce her intake, and Cassie's husband asks him to stop giving it to her altogether.
Cassie smokes cigarettes continually. Others are shown smoking as well. Several scenes take place in bars. Gator gives the sheriff a shot of whiskey while the officer is on duty.
Other Negative Elements
I'll note that the sheriff pours out that shot, but don't think of it as a symbol of his integrity. We learn that he and Gator have an agreement: Gator will turn in small-time drug dealers in return for the sheriff looking the other way when it comes to Gator's much larger meth-distribution operation.
Broker lies to Maddy (to shield her from the ongoing conflict).
Kind and gentle are not words that generally have much to do with the movie characters played by English action star Jason Statham, an actor with a penchant for gritty 'n' graphic antisocial antihero roles. And yet he plays exactly that kind of man here. Phil Broker is a softhearted father who wants very much to give his preteen daughter the best life possible while turning the other cheek to those who aren't so careful to do so.
But he's also—of course!—a hardened federal agent who's made quite a few enemies while doing his job. And when they come calling with only death and destruction on their minds, well, you can forget anything like kindness and gentleness. Ditto turning the other cheek. More like raising the other fist—over and over and over again.
Homefront—with a screenplay written by none other than Sylvester Stallone—plays to the same kind of primal paternal urges to protect one's kin that made Liam Neeson's 2008 thriller Taken a surprise hit. Because when soulless, conscience-free, meth peddlers announce their intent to kill a good man's little girl, well, it's safe to say most moviegoers don't really mind when they're skewered with a pitchfork or screwdriver. They've got it coming, we figure.
But maybe we don't grapple quite enough with exactly when we're supposed to stop being Mr. Nice Guy. Or if we ever are. I won't lay out a case for either self-defense or pacifism here; it's too complicated a matter for the confines of a movie review. But I will say that movies nearly always oversimplify things, turning shades of gray into blacks and whites, playing on our emotions instead of our minds and hearts. And we need to be wary of that.
We also need to be wary of a movie that takes Taken and torques up the content to near-crazy levels, seriously amping up the agony and punctuating the painful proceedings with nearly 200 obscenities.
In the end, Broker stops short of executing his chief antagonist. Why? Because he looks up and notices that the little girl he's sworn to protect is watching, and he doesn't want to inflict one more wound upon her tender psyche.
Stallone and Statham have no such qualms when it comes to the audiences watching Homefront.