There are few career transitions that are more public than those undertaken by movie stars. Time inevitably forces child actors into adult roles, or forces once young performers to deal with the passage into middle age and beyond on an incredibly public scale, magnified on the giant screens of multiplexes worldwide.
Sadly, age has even affected Jackie Chan, one of the most giddily joyful performers ever to grace the silver screen. For the past 40 years, he has used a combination of comedy and amazing stunt work to achieve superstardom, but he’s been largely missing from American theaters since “Rush Hour 3” in 2007.
He’s attempting a stateside comeback with “The Foreigner,” in which he plays a seemingly mild-mannered London restaurant owner named Quan, whose teenage daughter is killed by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorist bomb in the movie’s opening moments. Driven by an obsession for justice, he focuses in on a former IRA leader-turned-peacemaking politician named Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) to get the names of the bombers in order to exact revenge upon them.
The problem is that Liam claims he doesn’t know the identity of the bombers. Since Quan doesn’t believe him, he begins making a series of improvised bombs and setting them off at Liam’s office, home and other beloved spots in the hopes of forcing his cooperation. But as Quan goes ever further in his quest, it is revealed that Liam is himself surrounded by people he can’t trust.
This may sound like an intriguing plotline, and for much of the film’s first third, it is fairly compelling. Yet something seems off-base about “The Foreigner” even from its opening moments.
One issue is the film’s pacing, as the film starts with a boring conversation between Quan and his daughter as he takes her to an after-school activity, and then has the bombing explode out of nowhere. Because the film hasn’t already developed Quan and his daughter enough to make viewers care, the bomb’s deadly results leave a weak impression.
In addition, much of the film is bogged down by lengthy conversations, rather than providing the stunning action that Chan fans have come to expect. But the biggest problem is that the movie has a dark tone that doesn’t fit with what has made Chan so appealing for decades. In playing the depressed Quan, there’s not a moment of joy in Chan’s performance, and most of his stunts are either rote hand-to-hand combat or seem to be obviously performed by stuntmen.
The role of a brooding vigilante might have worked for Charles Bronson in the 1970s, but Chan just looks like he’s tired. His ability to create numerous “McGyver”-style bombs is unexplained through most of the movie, and when his past is revealed, it’s an illogical plothole filler. Using the IRA as villains also makes “The Foreigner” seem dated, since even the movie itself acknowledges that the group signed a successful peace treaty with England 19 years ago.
Brosnan appears tired as well, with a hammy Irish accent that is more distracting than effective. Worst of all is the movie’s bad music score by Cliff Martinez, which relies upon droning keyboards overlaid with awful effects.
The movie’s violence is enough to earn its R rating without being overly graphic, and most of the language is standard for an R-rated film. But it features a noticeable amount of using the name of Jesus Christ in vain throughout the movie.
Director Martin Campbell has made a couple of terrific James Bond movies, specifically “Goldeneye” and “Casino Royale,” but appears to be phoning it in with this film. Nearly every moment of “The Foreigner” feels like a lazy straight-to-cable movie — and, as such, should be skipped in the theater.