“The Foreigner” Movie Review


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     Clearly marketed as a vehicle for Jackie Chan to enter the ever evolving action genre in which actors well past their physical primes seek to prove they can still kick butt, director Martin Campbell’s “The Foreigner” can’t seem to escape the formulaic nature of the material and delivers a film too similar to a number of recent action entries.  There’s no doubt the director, who resurrected the Bond series twice with 1995’s “GoldenEye” and 2006’s “Casino Royale”, has a keen ability to enhance what would otherwise become a bland and uninteresting scenario, but you can’t help but think the script, written by David Marconi and based on a novel by Stephen Leather, could have done more to give its star the kind of moments I believe audiences will expect going in.  Chan, for all his physical bravado and high wire stunt work he is famous for, never really gets in a groove in this one.  Not because he isn't game, but rather the story hides him in the shadows as a sort of top billed co-star who isn't allowed to flourish or even do what we know he does best.

     Much has already been said about “The Foreigner” choosing to use new wave IRA terrorists to provide the obligatory evil doings in the film.  Why not have Chan go against ISIS or White Supremacists instead, so as to give the film some narrative punch, having the storyline ripped from today’s headlines?  The story never goes there, and relies solely on an enemy most won't remember as having been a relevant threat in years, which is a detriment to the overall dramatic thrust, though Chan does a fine job of trying to convince us otherwise.  When the film opens, we meet Quan (Jackie Chan), a restaurant owner in London who lives with his adult aged daughter, Fan (Katie Leung), of whom we are told is the only living family he has left.

     Just as Quan drops his daughter off at an event she is attending, the bank in the same building blows up, killing Fan and injuring countless others.  The IRA immediately takes credit for the bombing, leading us to the introduction of the film’s true main character, Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a former IRA terrorist turned politician whose primary function is to ensure relations between the Irish and British continue to remain civil.  Of course, an incident like this can easily reopen old wounds, as those investigating the horrific crime look to Hennessy for answers.  Quan also wants answers as well, employing a few simple Google searches to determine that Hennessy is the man he needs to talk to.

     This is where “The Foreigner” begins to follow along the lines of countless other action films that employ 50 and 60 year old action stars in the lead role.  Quan, who appears mild mannered and gets around with a slow and methodical gait similar to that of Yoda, seems to have the kind of past that we’ve seen from characters played by Liam Neeson, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and countless others who have their lengthy resumes spewed out on screen by the very people they seek retribution against.  Quan has “skills” in other words, and is willing to use them in order to get answers as to who was responsible for the London bombing that killed his daughter.  And this really pisses Hennessy off, to the point where he continually does his best Conor McGregor impersonation with a thick Irish accent and the recurrent use of the word “fooker” to describe Quan and his actions.

     Those actions include consistently being ahead of Hennessy and his men, as they move him from location to location for his safety, only to find Quan has laid a trap for them.  At first, these traps are limited to various types of bombs which Quan strategically places in areas where they will go off near Hennessy, but wont harm him.  He obviously intends to send a message that he’s serious and seems to believe Hennessy knows the names of the terrorists and may be potentially involved himself in the plot.  There are a couple early fight sequences where Chan’s signature Kung Fu style and accompanying stunt work are seen in small amounts, but it’s clear his former abilities have left him, as they do us all when you start to get up there.  To replace this, the filmmakers have Chan operate in the woods just outside a rural compound Hennessy is hiding at.  Instead of seeing Chan taking on multiple attackers with only his fists, we see him making pipe bomb traps and other assorted John Rambo style pitfalls for Hennessy’s red shirts to stumble into.  In doing so, we barely see him, and when we do, his lines of dialogue are minimal.  Instead, we get plenty of scenes where Hennessy rants about the dangers he is in, as his men continue to fail him and only realize the threat Quan actually is when it’s too late.

     Aside from all this, there are the usual double crosses amongst the various players that are all too common in the genre, none of which will come as a major surprise since most are telegraphed via standard plot devices.  Somewhere hidden within the overplayed political back and forth between Hennessy and the British authorities trying to track down the bombers is, perhaps, one of the most muted performances by a lead actor in years.  It reminded me of Kurt Russell’s role in “Soldier” where he graced the screen 85% of the time, but actually says only 104 words.  And granted, there was certainly a time where Jackie Chan would’ve been more than capable of carrying a picture solely based on his awe inspiring stunts (which he famously performed himself) and the ground breaking choreography of his fight scenes, but that’s not what we get here, leaving the rest of the narrative as disappointing.  “The Foreigner” may remind us of what Chan once was, but fails to help the legendary actor move into the segment actors such as the aforementioned Liam Neeson can now perform with their eyes closed.  GRADE: C