Martial arts maestro Jackie Chan gets his “Taken” moment with the terrorism thriller “The Foreigner,” directed by Martin Campbell. Chan co-stars as a man seeking vengeance for the death of his daughter in a bloody London bombing. His counterpart is a Pierce Brosnan, growling his way into a 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 rogue IRA cell.
Chan’s role is to brood. He wants the names of those responsible for his daughter’s death. Rebuffed by the police and government, he relies on his bag of tricks, developed in the jungles of Vietnam, honed by U.S. Special Forces. He detonates homemade bombs with notes reading “NAMES” around Hennessy’s stomping grounds of Belfast. He plants nasty jungle traps, ensnaring Hennessy’s thugs. All 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, deploying his suaveness, talking out of both sides of his mouth to British politicians and his cabal of former (or are they?) IRA militants.
It’s refreshing to see Chan in this serious role, but he isn’t given much to do. When he isn’t in motion, he stares vacantly, communicating his shock and trauma, his character merely a violent automaton.
There’s a lot happening in “The Foreigner.” One sequence intercuts Chan being stalked through the forest by Hennessy’s special ops soldier nephew, while Hennessy chats with the British police who are surveilling him with drones, while also torturing the truth out of one of his own pals. Meanwhile, a likely terrorist seduces a reporter. With all this going on, why does it feel so dull?
The film never digs deep enough to care about any of the characters or even the plot twists. “The Foreigner” feels like two different movies spliced together, and now it doesn’t make much sense.
This vigilante justice story could have signaled a new turn in Chan’s career, but he has to share this movie with Brosnan’s 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. 1:54. Fayette, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.