There are few people in the world who seem happier than Jackie Chan. The man always seems to have a smile on his face, even when he’s kicking butts and taking names. Not so in The Foreigner. Here, Jackie Chan is a father out for revenge. With an improbable plot and very little fun, The Foreigner is an entertaining watch but certainly not memorable.
The titular foreigner is none other than Jackie Chan, here playing a single father named Quon Ngoc Minh who loses his youngest daughter during a terrorist attack in London. Determined to avenge her death, he quickly spirals onto a warpath to find out the names of these “authentic I.R.A.” terrorists and eventually settles on pursuing Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), an Irish political operative who used to be heavily involved in the I.R.A. of the 1990s.
“The I.R.A.?,” you may ask. Yep. The Irish Republican Army, an armed movement particularly active in the 1990s dedicated to Irish republicanism and political violence. Throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the I.R.A. set off bombs around the UK. So why make them enemy #1 in The Foreigner? Well, the film is based on a novel, “The Chinaman”, by Stephen Leather, and originally came out in 1992. To stay faithful to the book, the film version posits that this is a rogue offshoot of the formerly violent IRA, ready to cause mayhem again and disrupt the peace of the last 20 years. At best, it’s a thin cover, but, quite frankly, it’s morbidly nice to get a break from Islamic extremist terrorist attacks in films.
Jackie Chan has always been a physical actor, and channels that into his role here. Now in his sixties, Chan’s Quon is hunched and slow and his fighting is much less graceful than it used to be. The fight scenes feel more brutish and lack some of the wow factor that his other films had. But in many ways, the brutality feels more genuine for someone fighting at that age. Brosnan is passable as the angry Irishman, afraid of losing the political power and influence he’s cultivated.
It’s fun to see Quon stealthily track and disarm a whole army of corrupt Irishmen, even if it is absurdly unbelievable. And it’s easy to cheer for his revenge, especially since he does it all (mostly) unarmed and (mostly) without killing anyone. It’s perhaps even more fun to watch Brosnan’s Hennessey unravel as he fights off many fronts - the British government, his own IRA, his family, and now Quon - best fought with at least one whisky in hand.
The Foreigner struggles to make its 1992 plot relevant to today’s audiences but still manages to neatly tell a revenge / political thriller. Chan and Brosnan are, as always, entertaining to watch, but the film fails to captivate attention for longer than the runtime, just a hair under two hours.