The Foreigner Pierce Brosnan, Jackie Chan, Michael McElhatton. Directed by Martin Campbell. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
Though fans of Jackie Chan’s massive body of work know that he’s a star of great effervescence, quite a few viewers know him only for the Rush Hour films—perhaps his most successful and least interesting work—in which he is frequently upstaged by the yappy Chris Tucker. The filmmakers behind The Foreigner seem to be in the latter camp. They allow Chan—in an otherwise refreshingly serious role—to be upstaged by a much talkier Pierce Brosnan.
Chan’s character, a grieving father whose daughter is killed by a suspected IRA bomb in London, could have been one of the great “man they did not expect” roles, like Bruce Willis in Die Hard, Steven Seagal in Under Siege and Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. Chan’s Quan starts trying to find the bombers by himself to exact his revenge, and he’s terrific; even his fight scenes are bracingly edgy. But the movie keeps leaving him behind. In one sequence, he’s staked out in the woods outside a farm and the movie simply forgets about him, among the dead leaves and dirty ground, for a long chunk of time.
Brosnan plays a deputy cabinet minister with former ties to the IRA, and he has plenty to do. He has a mistress and a badass nephew, a few twists and turns and lots of dialogue. Not to disparage Brosnan, who is fine, but his part of the movie is stuck in rooms, where characters explain the plot to each other rather than actually talking.
Directed by Martin Campbell (most recently of the tepid Green Lantern), The Foreigner is based on a 1992 novel called The Chinaman, by Stephen Leather. Given that title, Chan’s character presumably could or should have been an actively dynamic center to the story, but instead he’s treated like an unwanted extension to a lackluster movie already in progress.