Legendary action star and martial arts maestro Jackie Chan gets his “Taken” moment with the terrorism thriller “The Foreigner,” where he co-stars as a man seeking vengeance for the death of his daughter in a bloody London bombing.
His counterpart is a grizzled former 007 himself, Pierce Brosnan, growling his way into a meaty and morally ambiguous role as former IRA member and Irish Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy, attempting to politick his way around the aftermath of the bombing, which is claimed by a rouge IRA cell.
Adapted from Stephen Leather’s novel “The Chinaman,” “The Foreigner” is only so-titled because the alternative would have caused an outcry. Chan’s character, Quan Ngoc Minh, is mostly referred to as “the Chinaman” throughout, even though he’s ethnically Vietnamese. Despite its literary origins, the film feels a bit like a writer tossed a few darts at a board labeled with aging action stars and various terrorist groups and just decided to make it work. Jackie Chan vs. the Irish Republican Army? That could work. What’s next: Bruce Willis vs. ETA? Jean-Claude Van Damme takes on Aum Shinrikyo?
Chan’s role is brooding, serious and simple. He wants the names those responsible for his daughter’s death. Rebuffed by the police and government, he relies on his old bag of tricks, developed in the jungles of Vietnam, honed by U.S. Special Forces. He detonates homemade bombs with notes just reading “NAMES” all around the environs of deputy minister Hennessy’s stomping grounds of Belfast. He plants nasty jungle traps, ensnaring Hennessy’s thugs. All just to get some face time with the minister.
Chan, now in his 60s, isn’t the energetic tornado of whirling kicks and punches he once was, but he’s still got it. His fighting style in the film is brutish, resourceful and effective. Brosnan is the talker, using his suaveness, talking out of both sides of his mouth to British politicians and his cabal of ex- (or are they?) IRA militants.
It’s a refreshing change of pace to see Chan in this more serious role, but he isn’t given all that much to do. When he isn’t in motion, he stares vacantly, communicating his shock and trauma, his character merely a violent automaton.
This vigilante justice story — standard fare for the aging action star — could have signaled a new turn in Chan’s career, but he has to share this movie with Brosnan’s far more fascinating plot about dynasties of terrorism. Unfortunately, neither star receives a fair shake in “The Foreigner.”
Rated R for violence, language and some sexual material
Running time: 114 minutes
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