Jackie Chan made a grief-revenge film. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as it sounds. He’s barely allowed to Liam Neeson the sh*t out of things in THE FOREIGNER. Director Martin Campbell’s cinematic adaptation of author Stephen Leather’s novel, The Chinaman, (which, as we all know from THE BIG LEBOWSKI, isn’t the preferred nomenclature) comes across less like the tense, character-driven page-turner you really want to see, and more like your dad’s beach read that got all corroded in the hot sun and saltwater.
Quan (Chan) is a loving father to his teen daughter before her life is snatched away from him in an act of terrorism. The tragedy leaves physical and emotional scars, dredging up a painful, long-buried past. He finds little comfort in the authorities’ trite platitudes about bringing these unknown assailants to justice. With nothing left to do, this man burdened by grief takes matters into his own hands. He’s convinced that Deputy Minister Liam Hennessey (Pierce Brosnan), a former IRA member-turned-political-power-player, knows the identity of those who killed his daughter. And he’ll stop at nothing (including terrorizing Liam and his staff) to get those names.
Narratively speaking, there’s so much that goes wrong after the initial premise set-up, it’ll make your head spin. Being ahead of the unfolding mystery on more than a few occasions isn’t the least bit engaging. David Marconi’s screenplay is formulaic in spots and downright maddening in others. The reveal of Quan’s previous career path can be guessed before the filmmakers actually show the audience. Quan’s flashback adds padding to the run time and nothing else. Tertiary character Mr. Henchman “Weenie” Exposition Hugh McGrath (Dermot Crowley) shows up to give a plodding speech dump to fill us in on motivations. By that point in the story, you’ll be playing “Who’s the most superfluous character in this movie?!” My money’s on ex-military nephew Sean (Rory Fleck Byrne) or the British detective who’s terrible at detecting (Ray Fearon).
Quan’s culpability in wreaking havoc on the Hennessey farmhouse compound is completely misplaced. We’re shown multiple times that Liam isn’t exactly lying, so when Quan begins his own personalized reign of terror (one that involves elaborately rigged booby traps) on Liam at work and home, the audience is almost assuredly thinking Quan’s actually the villain. Don’t worry. The third act takes great pains to show you he’s not – including rescuing a dog from potential harm (which is more than I can say for his prior disregard for the humans that work for Liam). That said, a very married Liam doesn’t do anything to help matters, sleeping with an obscenely young woman (Charlie Murphy) outside of his – albeit unhappy – marriage to Mary (Orla Brady), on top of so rudely dismissing Quan.
Fans of Chan’s impeccable, incomparable stunt artistry will inevitably leave disappointed. Pacing is problematic at best. It takes a good 30 minutes until we see Chan do his thing, attempting to escape from Liam’s goon squad. It then takes another twenty to see him explode Liam’s barn and another twenty for a just barely passable fight in the surrounding woods. This should be Chan’s JOHN WICK or TAKEN – relentless, merciless and bad-ass. Instead, it’s a whimper that eases its hand on the trigger.
THE FOREIGNER’s sleek, electro-cool score by Clint Martinez makes you not feel half as bad about sitting through the stupid narrative at hand. At least you’re hearing someone come to the table with somewhat fresh ideas. Just don’t look up the track titles as they spoil things. Or do! What do you care if a movie you’ll unlikely to see gets spoiled.
Leave this one stuck in customs.
THE FOREIGNER opens on October 13.