Sunday, December 15, 2013


 1.5 / 5 

A wonderful, much-missed phenomenon from the 1980s was Dollar Night at the movies.  Usually on Tuesdays, first-run theaters responded to the nation's debilitating recession by offering $1 admission to all of their shows.  One of the consequences: Audiences didn't much care what they saw for a buck.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the 1980s also saw a rise in mindless action-adventure movies about good cops gone bad, bad cops gone good, drug lords who fought hard, and heroes who fought harder.  This cinematic bargain-bin fare pre-dated straight-to-video fare, and filled multiplexes, providing a constant stream of work to actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, who drew undiscerning audiences in droves.

We're in the 21st century now, and Dollar Night is a thing of the past, but, shhh, don't tell that to Sylvester Stallone.  He's back, both as a movie star and now as a screenwriter, too.  In 1986, he might have starred in film version of his script Homefront, which might have been about nefarious cocaine dealers.

Instead, Stallone has ceded the starring role to Jason Statham, and cocaine has given way to meth.

The problem is, Stathm lacks the charisma of one of those larger-than-life '80s stars, and methamphetamine is a soul-sucking, life-threatening drug.  Homefront treats meth as a plot point, and Statham could well be an interesting actor but director Gary Fleder's camera can't stay still long enough to give him a chance to shine.

Stallone's script also provides bad-guy roles for Oscar nominees James Franco and Winona Ryder, but requires them to try to emote using the F-word as frequently as possible.  Watching them on-screen in this macho drivel can get downright embarrassing.

They play two meth dealers in a backwoods Louisiana town (is there any other kind?) who discover that the local tough guy played by Statham is actually an undercover cop who was responsible for the violent death of big crime lord's son a couple of years back.

There are a bunch of interchangeable goons who do Franco's bidding, and never seem to learn the lesson that Statham is not a guy you should mess with.

In one of the script's high points, the main action is set in motion by a playground fight between Statham's daughter and a little boy whose mother happens to be the sister-in-law of Franco's meth dealer.  Seems Franco and Ryder come to the conclusion that if they bring down Statham, they'll have the lock on "statewide distribution" of meth, which is a little detail you'd think a meth dealer would have tried to figure out before cooking up literally tons of the stuff.

There are a bunch of fights, but the hyperactive editing never really gives Statham a chance to show off his fighting skills.

There's also a barely mentioned romantic subplot between Statham and his daughter's school psychologist, because of course Statham's wife died a few years back, leaving he and his daughter to get by on their own in a big, rambling house in the middle of bayou country.  He has to protect his home, hence the film's title, though I doubt I'm the the only one who went into the theater expecting an action-drama about a returning vet.

Thirty years ago, for a buck (maybe two), Homefront might have been a passable, utterly forgettable time-killer.  Most of the script suggests it might have been written way back then, with a couple of scenes hastily updated to include things like smartphones and texting.  Unfortunately, theater owners long ago abandoned the cheap-movie concept, so in 2013 audiences have to pay full price for Homefront, and we expect a little more than this for a dozen hard-earned bucks.

I suppose Stallone wanted to offer audiences the same sort of mindless entertainment that made him a star.  They certainly don't make them like this anymore.

There's a reason.

Viewed Dec. 15, 2013 -- AMC Promenade 16


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