The geriatric action movie that has taken Hollywood by storm ever since Liam Neeson’s daughter got taken lives on in The Foreigner, a windy political thriller meets man-on-a-mission actioner. It’s nice to see Jackie Chan, who hasn’t been in a live action Hollywood film since 2010’s The Karate Kid, back in action and unlike Neeson (who by the third iteration of Taken looked as stiff as a log; as arthritic as a 65-year old should be) the venerable martial artist sticks kicks more ass than his 20-year old understudies. Regardless of The Foreigner’s shortcomings, watching Chan take on the mantle of old guy with a special set of skills is the kind of pure movie magic that I didn’t know I needed or wanted.
Director Martin Campbell has a spotty record. The man behind such excellent 007 franchise-reboots as GoldenEye and Casino Royale and the admittedly pretty awesome The Mask of Zorro is also responsible for such cinematic dumps as Green Lantern and the admittedly really shitty The Legend of Zorro. Here he’s mostly putting his skill to good use, directing the action in a crunchy, kinetic manner that highlights Chan’s finely tuned combat style and aerial acrobatics while managing to make the political intrigue broiling under all the action about as compelling as possible as written by David Marconi (Mission: Impossible 2).
Chan is Quan. Essentially Brian Mills meets John Wick (Quan Wick?), he is a highly trained ex-military type set into action when a politically-motivated act of terrorism robs him of his last remaining family member – his bubbly and innocent high school-aged daughter. Desperate to know the men responsible, Quan hangs up his apron at the humble noodle shop he owns to pursue Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a high-ranking IRA politico who Quan believes to have ties with the group claiming responsibility for the act of terror.
What follows is a sometimes thrilling, often humorous game of cat and mouse. The mounting realization that Quan is more than just an aged noodle vendor is played for laughs with the titular foreigner planting “warning” bombs around Hennessy’s various hideouts, hoping to flush out the names of his daughter’s killers. In these moments, The Foreigner shines. Conversely, much time is devoted to fleshing out the internal political workings of Hennessy’s life; his past involvement with the IRA; his now scattered familial relationships; his ties to British political parties; to the point where he is just as much a main character as Chan, even if watching his mysteries unfold isn’t nearly as pulse-pounding as the elderly Chan smashing up crew after crew of henchmen.
Because that’s what we’re all here for and everyone involved with The Foreigner, or Jackie Chan Hides in the Woods and Makes Bombs, seems to know it. When unleashed, Chan remains poetry in motion, his age actually adding oomph to each punch, dodge and jab. We wince when he crashes to the ground because we know this is no stuntman but a 63-year old man literally slamming himself around for our entertainment purposes.
The handful of action sequences featuring Chan are excellent. Sharply edited, they are devoid of the liberal smattering of snap cuts frequently used to hide stunt doubles in action movies. Martin and his stunt coordinators make smart use of Chan’s DIY delivery, offering a handful of electric action beats that prove that even in his older age Chan is still one of the world’s most reliable action stars. His character Quan may be a familiarish play on a trope but the sadness and intensity that Chan brings to the character makes him standout. Though Chan gives enough to Quan to make him seem able to lead a franchise, if Taken is any indication, it’s probably best to leave well enough alone.
Brosnan too is a solid addition to the cast, allowed a chance to plot and fume and scheme his way out of trouble; a good conniving counterpart to Chan’s brute force persona. Though part of me wished to see Brosnan and Chan throw down mano a mano, the aging Brit is put to good use as a wheeling and dealing mouthpiece, even though he sometimes feels like he’s in an entirely different movie than the gritty, ass-kicking revenge plot Chan charges through.
Outside of the action scenes, The Foreigner tends to run a bit stale, offering long stretches of crosses, double-crosses and double-double crosses without so much as a punch to the throat to break up all the shifting loyalties. Think a season’s worth of 24 style twists and turns condensed into a two-hour movie and you have a good idea of what’s in store. On the whole, it’s a fairly forgettable, if pretty much entirely decent, action movie distraction, riding on the back of still-viable star power in Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan. Fulfilling promises to rejuvenate Chan’s action hero presence, The Foreigner is sure to entertain just long enough to warrant a watch, even if it’ll pretty much be data-dumped from your brain 24 hours after consuming.
CONCLUSION: ‘The Foreigner’ is a welcome return to form for Jackie Chan and funnier than it seems at first glance, offering the aging martial arts master a chance to kick ass and literally take names, even if the political thriller elements are a somewhat humdrum exercise in retreading familiar action movie procedure.