Chuck Logan is so elated that his novel “Homefront” has been made into a Hollywood movie, he lapses into action-flick lingo when talking about it.
“This movie just came along like a skyhook,” he said, swiveling in a chair in his Stillwater writing studio to look at a huge poster of Jason Statham on the wall. “I feel like I was standing in the dark and suddenly got picked up by a runaway train.”
Based on the sixth and last of Logan’s pop-fiction thrillers featuring Phil Broker, “Homefront” opens nationwide Wednesday. Starring top action hero Statham and all-over-the-place James Franco, directed by Gary Fleder (“Runaway Jury,” “Kiss the Girls”) and written by Sylvester Stallone, who also co-produced, the $70 million film is one of the biggest movies ever made from a Minnesota author’s work.
If it’s a hit, the movie could re-ignite sales of his other books, as well as publisher interest in more Broker plot lines.
Seeing a book make it to the big screen is a long shot under any circumstances. “Out of a million books sold, the number that get optioned is in the thousands, and of those the ones that get made and distributed are in the tens,” said Sloan Harris, Logan’s agent at ICM Partners.
Statham stars as Broker, a retired DEA agent and widower who moves his 10-year-old daughter to a small Southern town where altercations on the playground and later with the local meth kingpin (Franco) lead to deadlier conflicts.
Harris said Stallone took “an instant liking” to “Homefront” when he handed it to him during a meeting.
Stallone’s version veers from Logan’s in a few key ways. For one thing, it was shot in Louisiana — a state that offers filmmakers some of the most tempting financial incentives in the nation — instead of northern Minnesota. And a main character, Broker’s wife, Nina, is dead and barely referenced in the movie.
“I’m a gender traitor, writing women stronger than men,” Logan joked. “But you can’t have a woman upstaging Statham.”
Noting that visitors to the movie website IMDB.com had ranked “Homefront” as the No. 2 film they most wanted to see, Logan is cheerily pragmatic about these deviations.
“At this point I’m a bystander,” he said. “It’s like selling a car. Once it’s gone down the road, it isn’t yours to mess with anymore.”
From brawling to writing
The author’s own background could be a screenplay. His father left home shortly after Logan’s birth in Chicago in 1942. As a young boy, he spent two years at a Georgia military academy. At 11, he flew through the windshield in a traumatic car accident that killed his mother.
He bounced between relatives for the rest of his childhood, then went to college in Detroit, where he was kicked off both the fencing and debate teams for drinking. After working in auto factories while continuing to get into trouble — assaulting a cop, for example — Logan volunteered for the draft in 1967, doing a tour in Vietnam and earning a Bronze Star.
He moved to Minnesota, got sober and in 1975 became an artist at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Ten years later, he started writing after being assigned a book review. A couple of literary efforts flopped, and his friend and former co-worker John Camp (a k a John Sandford, author of the bestselling “Prey” series) suggested he try thrillers. He’s now written eight books, plus “Heat Lightning,” co-authored with Sandford.
Hollywood has flirted with him before, but never sealed the deal. Nick Nolte took a look at Logan’s first novel, “Hunter’s Moon” (1996), but wound up making the even bleaker “Affliction” instead. Jennifer Lopez optioned “Absolute Zero, “but then she made ‘Gigli’ and all that development money dried up,” he said.
Then along came Stallone, who has so much clout “it’s one-stop shopping,” Logan said. The actor/director/screenwriter, who also penned the scripts for the Rocky, Rambo and Expendables series, had twice bought options to film Logan’s 2005 book, but each expired after 18 months. He made another offer early last year. A couple of months later, Logan’s wife, Pioneer Press photographer Jean Pieri, saw a report online that the movie was to start shooting that fall.
On Wednesday Logan brought Pieri and their 18-year-old daughter, Sofie, a senior at Stillwater High School, to the premiere at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.
“I got to meet everybody, but with all the cameras, it was like trying to talk in the middle of a flashing minefield,” he said.
When Logan watched the movie for the first time a couple of weeks ago at a screening at Rosedale, he asked young adults in the audience for feedback.
“They called it a more thoughtful action film compared with, say, ‘The Expendables,’ ” he said.
He praised the film’s tautness, production values and particularly the father-daughter relationship. (For this role, Statham had to exercise the only muscles he never has before onscreen — those that create facial expressions.) “Their chemistry was real, which gives the movie heart,” Logan said, adding that Stallone’s script retained a few real-life-inspired details from his book that are dear to him.
“Those monkey bars she’s playing on in the beginning, those were from Sofie’s school,” he said. Sofie also still has a toy bunny that inspired one in the story, and “she’s taking it to the premiere on the off-chance she can get a picture with someone in the cast.”
Logan said he “doesn’t want to be a shill” for the movie. That said, “it raised me from the dead, which means I’m wildly enthusiastic about it.”
Hoping for a book boost
The timing couldn’t have been better for Logan, whose books have been relatively popular but never bestsellers. Logan says his books have gotten lost “in the limbo zone between commercial and literary.” He’s been told he does too much character development for the genre, and that Broker is not tough enough.
“I had a guy get up once at a book signing who got mad because Broker had never shot anybody,” said Logan, whose hero is also a Vietnam vet. “I said, people who have violent fantasies should not argue with people who have violent memories.”
Now his publisher is re-releasing “Homefront” with the movie’s stars on the cover, and Logan himself is issuing a new suspense e-book, “Fallen Angel,” about a female war veteran whose memory loss prevents her from knowing why someone wants to kill her.
Logan hopes that Statham (and Stallone) will consider making more Broker movies: “He experimented with a more dramatic role in ‘Redemption,’ ” a summer Statham flick that bypassed the big screen and went straight to home video. “As Broker, he can take a step back, play a dad.”
Mindful of Hollywood’s youth obsession and the fact that in the last book, “Broker is about ready for Medicare,” Logan is working on a pitch for a prequel, a story in which Broker is not yet married.
He’s also always on the lookout for more impossibly tense scenarios in which to embroil his characters. When Logan was in Mississippi doing research on his Civil War book “South of Shiloh,” he heard a story about a part-time sheriff’s deputy whose wife, also a deputy, stepped out with another deputy.
“So then the guy starts seeing the wife of yet another deputy. One day someone at the shooting range makes a big scheduling mistake, and they all show up at the same time to take their qualifying tests. The guy told me you could hear the sweat splash on the ground. I’m thinking of using it.”
Logan and his pal Sandford take friendly jabs at each other in their books. For example, Sandford has given the name “Logan” to outhouse cleaners and woodpeckers.
Asked what, in this vein, he’d like to say to Sandford now, Logan quipped: “You’ve always been my role model and I’ve tried to emulate you in all things, but I’ve never had a TV movie made from my work like you have. Guess I’ll have to make do with this $70 million Hollywood movie instead.”
Asked via e-mail to return a volley, Sandford turned the tables and offered a sincerely nice reply: “Okay, I’m officially jealous. Sort of. This should have happened a long time ago for Logan. He’s a terrific writer.”