Apparently in the action-thriller genre, 60 is the new 30, as Jackie Chan joins the ranks of Hollywood stars, far closer to being able to collect social security than their prime, who still churn out action thrillers year after year. In Chan’s latest picture The Foreigner, the action star plays a humble Chinese immigrant and restaurant owner, named Quan, living in London who turns out to have some very deadly skills. When a terrorist bombing by a faction calling itself “the authentic IRA” kills his daughter, he sets out on a course for revenge laying waste to anyone who stands in his way. If this plot of a man with lethal special forces/paramilitary/combat training happening to be wronged by some bad guys on whom he must exact revenge sounds overly familiar, that’s because well, it is. While formulaic, seeing Chan depart from his typically comedic characters from the Rush Hour films who reluctantly engaged their outmatched enemies in martial arts battles to a brooding and relentless avenger somewhat elevates the appeal of the film.
Not long after the bomb detonates in London we are introduced to an official of the British government and former IRA member Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) who currently resides in Belfast. As Hennessy, Brosnan sports a silvery beard reminiscent of that of Sean Connery (it must be a requisite for former James Bonds) and unleashes his Irish brogue. When it becomes clear to Quan that Hennessy possesses information about the bombing, he travels to Belfast in order to force Hennessy to reveal the identities of the men responsible for his daughter’s death.
From there on, a convoluted plot of conspiracy and backstabbing unfolds along with some clumsily-executed sexual intrigue involving Hennessy’s wife, nephew, and mistress. Although, marketed as an action thriller, the first half of the film is not very thrilling. The dialogue heavy scenes feel a bit sluggish as screenwriter David Marconi’s script fails to generate enough tension to keep audiences engaged. It is not until the film’s second half that director Martin Campbell, whose resume includes some fantastic action movies such as The Mask of Zorro and Casino Royale, stages action scenes that really pop.
It is in these sequences that the film shines as Chan demonstrates that, despite his age, he is still able to pull off the scenes of dazzling kung fu combat and acrobatics that helped to make him such a popular movie star in the first place. Given Campbell’s past ability to keep audiences enraptured with strong pacing and pulse-pounding spectacle, it is a shame the film takes such a dull, meandering path before getting down to the excitement the director and star have demonstrated previously.
In addition to struggling with pacing in the first half, The Foreigner also suffers from jarring tonal shifts. The premise alone—innocent people being killed in the streets of London by a terrorist bombing, while other bombs threaten to detonate—feels unsettling given the terror attacks England has faced this past year. The immediacy of the subject matter makes it a bit difficult to enjoy the film as it is best consumed, a popcorn thriller.
The Foreigner flip-flops back and forth between moments of humor and grim violence in an ineffective combination that makes it unclear if it was intended to be an action comedy or a darker thriller. Chan’s committed performance helps to counteract these flaws, but ultimately it is difficult to recommend The Foreigner as much more than something to watch on cable TV.
Featured Image by STX Films