The Foreigner

by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday October 13, 2017

Jackie Chan stars in 'The Foreigner'
Jackie Chan stars in 'The Foreigner'  

For the first 15 minutes, Martin Campbell's "The Foreigner" is a sad story about a Chinese immigrant living in London who loses his daughter (and last remaining family member) to a devastating explosion at a local dress shop.

This immigrant, named Quan, is played by Jackie Chan, and in these early moments the legendary actor proves he's got the dramatic chops to complement his action star status (which he's proven in films before, mind you; just watch 1985's "Police Story" or even the 2010 remake of "The Karate Kid"). After the explosion, lingering shots of Quan holding his dead daughter or sitting around his empty apartment in a deep, teary-eyed depression are surprisingly moving, with most of this credit due towards Chan's entirely lived-in performance as a grieving father. It's emotional; it's effective, but then it completely goes off the fucking rails.

Following the sensitive substance found in the first act, "The Foreigner" quickly becomes an exercise in straight-faced silliness that never quite finds its footing in the various genres it is working within. Quan begins reaching out to the local police department and then, a British government official named Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan, in a truly give-no-shits performance), to receive the names of the people responsible for his daughter's death. His requests begin as innocent and well-intentioned, but when those in power refuse to acknowledge his pleas, Quan begins revealing the hidden layers of his past, which include the fact that he is an expert in hand-to-hand combat and even more experienced in the art of making bombs.

Quan proceeds to place makeshift bombs in various areas, like Hennessy's office bathroom or his family's farmhouse. He never intends to kill anyone with these explosions, just send a message, and the film itself communicates an interesting examination of those impacted by terrorism who eventually become terrorists themselves. We've seen this concept before -- like in John Flynn's "Rolling Thunder" (1977) or Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" (2009) -- but "The Foreigner" handles this theme with careless hands and a foggy mindset. Things just happen to advance the plot along. Buildings explode, and we don't get an actual fight scene until at least 40 minutes into the film.

Everything is interwoven with a convoluted political conspiracy plotline where Brosnan's politician is the main character, and "The Foreigner" tries to balance this with the revenge thriller arc involving Chan. Most of the time, it feels like two movies happening concurrently that never seem to mesh, and this is where the film collapses in on itself.

"The Foreigner" wants to be a lot of things -- a Jason Bourne movie, a twisty political whodunnit, a "Taken"-style popcorn flick -- but it ends up being an unclear mess with no apparent direction in what it ultimately aims to be. Its politics are problematic, its action scenes are merely passable, and the dialogue consists primarily of spoon-fed exposition that only further muddles up an already-overloaded plot.

The most unfortunate thing, however, is that Jackie Chan feels like a foreigner himself in a movie where he is the title character. If you measured Brosnan's screen time against Chan's, I wouldn't be surprised if the former outweighed the latter. This is an outright shame because, for a work that feels like two different movies jammed into one, Chan is in the better of the pair.