THE FOREIGNER Review

At the age of sixty-three and nearly seven years after any type of significant showing on the big screen I imagine Jackie Chan doesn't necessarily want to be starring in second rate scripts Liam Neeson passed on as someone called Quan Ngoc Minh. I imagine he'd like to be making more thought-provoking actioners or maybe even interesting character pieces, but that just doesn't seem to be in the cards for the poor guy. He seems to have tried his hand at making low-risk action/comedies and has done an abundance of voice over work, most recently in the subpar The LEGO Ninjago Movie, but the question has now become that of how does a man always known for his agility and stylistic fighting abilities age into a Hollywood environment based on franchises and brand recognition? Well, make Rush Hour 4 obviously. This is kind of the point though, as Chan has played in seemingly everything the industry could think to put him in, so it makes sense that now-as there is no shortage of aging stars that were once marquee names who are willing to try their hand at being action stars-that a true action star would join in on the fun. Unfortunately, The Foreigner isn't that much fun. As much as this feels like a last resort of sorts for Chan it is a double-edged sword for that of his co-star Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan would seemingly like to be a well-regarded leading man in more mature fare, but it is likely he sees no other options in maintaining his relevancy and so we will continue to get things such as leading roles like in The November Man (though I wonder if he could even pull off something like that only three years after the fact) and supporting roles such as this before having a late in life career renaissance that will leave his legacy as more than just the guy who once played James Bond...or maybe that arc will be saved for Daniel Craig. All of this is to say that both Chan and Brosnan as well as director Martin Campbell (The Mask of ZorroGoldeneye, Casino Royale) have been put to better use in much better movies as The Foreigner feels like a much-delayed attempt to hop on the now sub-genre of older, unsuspecting guys kicking ass and taking names. The Foreigner is a film as generic as anything we've seen this year which is a shame considering it doesn't utilize its stars strongest asset to great effect. I like Jackie Chan, you can't help but to root for the guy and that is inevitable here as well despite the fact that every few minutes you might have to ask yourself where these characters are, where they're going, and/or what exactly they're doing and for what reason. It's that kind of movie though, one that by the time the credits roll you'll shrug it off and move on; no harm and no real foul.

Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan) is startled by an explosion that takes the life of his daughter.
© Motion Picture Artwork 2017 STX Financing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Chan plays Quan who is a man of otherwise simple means and needs. He owns a small Chinese restaurant in London where his daughter, Fan (Katie Leung), is his everything as his wife has since passed on and he's previously lost two daughters to Thai pirates when his family immigrated to London in the eighties. The film opens on Fan leaving school, saying goodbye to her boyfriend, and getting in the car with her father so that they might hurry to purchase her dress for an upcoming school dance. As these things go, Fan rushes out of the car and into the store before her father has found a parking spot only for the store to go up in flames before Quan is even able to get out of his car. Twelve people, including Fan, are killed in the blast leaving Quan a man with nothing to lose and a very particular set of skills that will lead him to relentlessly seek vengeance on those responsible for the death of the only good thing he had left in this world. Got it? Cool. Because while this is in the initial set-up for the film, things get a little complicated once Brosnan's character is introduced into the fold or at least once his role and personal narrative are expanded upon. Brosnan is Liam Hennessy, a former IRA member AKA the group who takes credit for the bombing that killed Quan's daughter, who has since become a British government official who either knows or may know more than he lets on. It is here, in the details of Hennessy's affiliations and many of his actions that genuinely seem to be an attempt at keeping a peace between the U.K. and Ireland that the movie seemingly overcomplicates itself; going from a rather straightforward revenge thriller to essentially taking on a separate narrative altogether. In this, Brosnan's Hennessy becomes the protagonist of his own story while not necessarily being the antagonist of the story it seemed the movie was going to tell. Hennessy was a young, avid political activist with the aforementioned IRA who it seems took drastic action to make his organization's agenda known at the time, but has since matured into more official titles within the British government and has become proud of the peace he has brought about with the actions of Chan's Quan being little more than a nuisance on an already frustrating situation. Based on the Stephen Leather novel "The Chainman", The Foreigner was adapted by David Marconi (Enemy of the State, Live Free or Die Hard) and while it doesn't work as expected-meaning it isn't a full-fledged vehicle for Chan to exercise his aging action antics-it is admirable for not simply aping what has come before it in this genre. And while The Foreigner gets points for varying up the formula it seemed to be emulating a successful execution is still key and, unfortunately, this is where the film falls short.

After that aforementioned strong start that introduces the titular character, almost immediately delivers the inciting incident, and then further solidifies as much through the confrontation between Quan and Hennessy the film then begins to bog itself down by giving more perspective to the Hennessy character and the rather dire circumstances of his contemporary's actions. Again, this isn't to say this is a bad direction for the movie to go, but if it was in fact going to be more of a dual narrative action film/conspiracy thriller then it might have found a more streamlined way to present Hennessy's perspective as any time the movie chooses to follow his storyline over whatever actions Quan is taking to enact his revenge the movie stalls. An hour into The Foreigner it's difficult to feel as if the movie has really produced that jumpstart it needs despite several more bombs having gone off in the wake of Quan's actions. The hope was that Campbell might bring a distinct style or energy to the old man revenge thriller, but The Foreigner with its faceless European henchmen and stale color palette make it more fit in with every other generic entry in this hit or miss series of movies rather than stand apart from it in the ways it very clearly could have. Campbell is a director that seems to sometimes have a very clear and distinct vision for what we wants while being wholly in tune with the nature of the material-see his drastically different takes on the Bond character with different leading men-while other times the filmmaker is either just having a fun enough time for a paycheck (Vertical Limit) or is completely overwhelmed by the responsibility and production facets at play that he kind of fails fantastically (Green Lantern). With The Foreigner, Campbell is walking that line between Vertical Limit and his second and first Zorro films. The tone present here, much like the aforementioned color palette, is so dour that it's never fun enough to excuse the convolution of the story nor is the story intriguing enough to warrant the unrelenting severity that Campbell enlists. There are moments appropriate to this tone, no doubt, especially if the film as a whole were to be centered solely around Chan's grieving Quan, but with Quan becoming so disconnected from the overall arc of Brosnan's character-Quan is essentially the unforeseen result of an already ill-advised plot-this single tone can't carry over into the two different types of stories being told. Sure, both include lies and deception, but one is only about as much while the other is an extremely personal and heartbreakingly volatile exercise in atonement by a man who feels he's failed everyone who he ever loved and depended on him. The two different flavors failing to ring true by sporting the same attitude.

Quan then tracks down Liam Hennessey (Pierce Brosnan) who becomes a victim on circumstance in his quest for revenge.
© Motion Picture Artwork 2017 STX Financing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Of course, story isn't necessarily supposed to be the most revolutionary aspect of a movie like The Foreigner and I'm okay with that as long as said execution sports a fun or skilled enough way of endearing the audience to the actions happening on screen-no matter how familiar-yet the majority of the time it can't help but feel as if Campbell is going through the motions on The Foreigner as the movie isn't particularly bad and even has a few inspired moments in both the directing and in the actors choices, but through and through this thing hits many of the expected beats as expected while being a handsomely polished script and action thriller that pulls its story strands together in a competent manner and is compelling just often enough for who I imagine will make up the majority of the movie's audience. What I went into The Foreigner hoping for most was a flurry of well-choreographed and uniquely inventive actions scenes so, how are these action scenes? They're...fine? It's no doubt a treat to see Chan on the big screen once again and there are a few fights staged in stairwells that are as fun as ever, but often times what should be hand to hand combat scenes are boiled down into gun fights in which Campbell easily gets lost in the chaos. This further kind of emphasizes the point that Chan may not be looking to be in full-on action mode for much longer as the more fascinating work done by Chan here are not through his tactical revenge methods, but more how he commits to carrying himself throughout the picture. Chan is very much playing against type here as the forever solemn Quan and while it may seem this would suck out much of the fun of seeing a Jackie Chan action movie it works because it makes sense in the scheme of the film overall. This is where that grave tone comes in handy as Campbell expertly handles the impact the loss of his daughter has on Quan. A shot of Quan standing solemnly in Fan's room-searching for reason and not knowing what to do next-is a fine example of one of those directorial touches where it feels Campbell is in tune with his material and is thus able to successfully relay to the audience the sympathy necessary. There are a handful of other moments such as this where Campbell is able to convey the essence of Quan's mentality in his choices by how he frames Quan while Chan's performance branches him out well enough that it would be easier to digest more candid character work from the typical action star in the future. On the opposite side of the coin, Brosnan plays Hennessy as increasingly frustrated. There is little more to Hennessy outside his thick accent and calming of the continuous fires that erupt as Quan becomes a bigger factor. There's also this subplot with Hennessy's wife (Orla Brady) and nephew (Rory Fleck Byrne) that feels unnecessary and strange. The Foreigner should have been simple and brutal, but aspires to be something bigger. It is hard to fault a project for harboring as much, but when such aspirations largely backfire leaving a part of the experience unsatisfactory one wishes the movie would have simply stuck more to its guns-or Chinese martial arts.