‘The Foreigner’: Chan can’t save this clunker


Courtesy Photo

Jackie Chan in The Foreigner.

There’s a certain schadenfreude associated with a revenge thriller — watching unnamed and faceless mercenaries arrive at gruesome deaths elicits an almost primal response from the viewer. Haven’t you always wanted to see justice done in a way that the real world could never allow?

It’s the basis on which superheroes and their antagonists come from. In “The Foreigner,” Jackie Chan’s latest film in the crowded genre, Chan’s considerable passion can’t save the film from its clichéd script.

Chan, 63, plays Quan, a retired restauranteur in London whose daughter is blown up in a terrorist bombing by “The Authentic IRA.” Part of the appeal of this film is watching well-regarded actors playing against type.

Chan, usually known for his happy-go-lucky personality and intelligent mixture of action and comedy, tackles his first dramatic role in some time to great effect. In fact, Chan brings an uncommon gravitas and authenticity to the character, playing him with an emotional reservation and apathy that looks and feels as if it is truly brought on by the death of a loved one.

Spurred on by tragedy, he tries uses his special skills to investigate who killed his daughter. Ever since “Taken” revitalized the genre in 2008, copycats have sprung up like the heads of a hydra. “The Foreigner” attempts to differentiate itself through its inspired casting choices.

Pierce Brosnan plays an Irish politician and former IRA strongman whose ties to the organization may not be as severed as he wants the public to believe. It’s a far-cry from the days he played the most famous British spy in all of cinema. While he does a fine job of playing an Irish crime boss/politician (the film wants you to believe they’re one and the same), most of his performance is shackled by the asinine situations the film places him in.

For a while, it works, as Chan’s journey for revenge gives he and Brosnan a platform to shine scene after scene. But it quickly becomes bogged down by a laborious subplot that threatens to overshadow the main narrative, resulting in a poorly-paced detour.

Furthermore, this distraction takes Chan off-screen for over thirty minutes as the director sets up a second-act riddled with clichés and dulled by familiarity.

What made “Taken” work was its pacing. Stripped down to the bare chassis and engine, “Taken” was 93 minutes of pure power distilled into a moving image, roaring across the scene with a fervor so relentless and violent that the viewer had no choice but to acquiesce or get off the ride.

“The Foreigner” wants to be that picture. It wants to be that next action movie that becomes a pop-culture phenomenon through its word-of-mouth buzz and entertainment value, but it lacks the same electric energy and perfect pacing that transformed “Taken” into a thrill ride.

Instead, “The Foreigner” sputters and chokes, stops and starts again, barely pulling itself across the finish line in a final showdown that arrives as too little too late.

Watching the film, it’s apparent this was a Chan passion project — a way for him to break out of the typecast he set for himself in the last two decades through his string of successful action comedies. It’s just too bad the film he attached himself to was a clunker.