One could be forgiven for walking into a screening of Martin Campbell's The Foreigner expecting a new action film starring the legendary Jackie Chan.
After all, Chan is quite literally the the face of the film. All of the trailers feature him and his bravado action chops prominently and even the US poster exclusively uses Chan's image to sell a film that looks like it could be a convincing serious turn, unlike anything Western audiences have seen from the action icon. However, anyone stepping into the film with those expectations is bound to be disappointed when they realize they've sat down for a complex political thriller in which the titular Foreigner spends what seems like less than a quarter of the film's nearly two hour run time on screen.
I've railed on numerous occasions against assigning expectations to films before having seen them. Expectations are the enemy of objectivity. However, in this case the expectation that Jackie Chan is going to carry The Foreigner is literally the entire reason that many in the audience will have plunked down their hard-earned dollars.
Instead, Campbell, whose career is studded with no less successful films than the entertaining Bond entries Goldeneye and Casino Royale, delivers a political thriller about a resurgence of the Irish Republican Army that happens to feature what amounts to an extended cameo by the greatest action star who has ever lived. If ever there was a bait and switch, this is it.
When Quan's (Chan) daughter is killed by a politically motivated bombing in London, the father sets his sights on vengeance as he attempts to track down her killer by any means necessary. When he pieces together the IRA connection, Quan contacts former operative Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan sporting a rather broad Northern Irish accent) to try and find answers to his questions. Hennessy hems and haws about the problem, insisting that he can be of no assistance, but Quan isn't so sure, and so a cat and mouse game begins.
I have no problem with Pierce Brosnan; he's proved on numerous occasions that he's perfectly capable of shouldering the lead in big productions, but the film is called The Foreigner, and that title only tangentially relates to his Hennessy, sidelining Quan almost entirely. The Foreigner is about 90% political intrigue and underworld double-crossing, which is not necessarily a bad thing, however, the film is likely to lose large segments of the North American audience with its intricate political discourse regarding the politics and philosophy of the IRA and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. I like to consider myself fairly well-read and aware of world politics, but I was struggling to keep up with the sinister machinations, and audiences with less understanding of the backdrop will find themselves tuning out during these long political diatribes by one character or another.
Jackie Chan is an international treasure of cinema, and for a film with this title, he should be front and center. Instead, he's relegated to the odd burst of energy in the film, leaving the thurst of the story centered around Brosnan's Hennessy. When Chan does show up, The Foreigner receives a shot of adrenaline to the heart that almost makes the 114-minute run time worth it. However, it's too little, too late.
Chan has been performing in this kind of serious role in China for over a decade now, and often to great success. He has aged gracefully, and even into his 60's he proves that he can run with the big boys, having barely lost a step. He's used the goodwill he's earned over the years to stretch himself as an actor in films like The Shinjuku Incident and 1911, which -- while not great films -- were evidence that he can be a serious actor when given an opportunity. He's had no such opportunity in his Hollywood films, unless you count a toned-down performance in the Karate Kid reboot alongside Jaden Smith. The Foreigner could've been a turning point, but his performance is so spread out and disjointed that it's difficult to tell if he's even good at all (he is).
I'm the first guy to rant against film critics who review a film for what it's not, but I have to step in here and call bullshit on The Foreigner. Ultimately, I consider my job here to let the reader know if I think this film is worth your precious time, and in this case, I have to cast my vote toward the side of "nay." Too much IRA inside baseball and not enough Jackie Chan charisma makes The Foreigner a dull boy.