“THE FOREIGNER” — 2½ stars — Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Katie Leung, Rufus Jones, Mark Tandy; R (violence, language and some sexual material); in general release
“The Foreigner” starts off as a fairly straightforward revenge film, with echoes of “Death Wish,” “Taken” and even 1992’s “Patriot Games.” But over the course of 114 minutes, director Martin Campbell’s effort starts to feel more like two separate films that have been mashed together, with decidedly strange results.
Longtime martial arts star Jackie Chan stars as Quan Ngoc Minh, a humble father who has been running a Chinese restaurant in London since coming to England with his daughter Fan (Katie Leung) years earlier. Only moments into the film, Fan is killed in a terrorist bombing, and as Quan cradles his dead daughter in his arms, he silently vows to punish the people responsible for her death.
Quan first approaches the local authorities, who give him the brush-off. Instead, he makes contact with Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), the current Irish deputy minister — and former Irish Republican Army member — who seems most likely to have inside information. Trouble is, a new group named Authentic IRA is claiming responsibility for the incident, and Hennessy claims he doesn’t know who they are.
Quan doesn’t buy Hennessy’s plea of ignorance, and determines to call on his own military past to persuade Hennessy to give up the responsible parties. We learn that Fan is the third of Quan’s daughters to meet an untimely demise, and her death has finally pushed him over the edge. In the meantime, Hennessy sets about digging through his own sordid contacts to figure out what is going on, eventually sending his Iraq War veteran nephew Sean (Rory Fleck Byrne) to secretly contact British Intelligence with a plan to smoke out the terrorists.
Eventually, “The Foreigner” settles into two dominant narratives. In the first, Quan morphs into a bizarre combination of John Rambo, MacGyver and Liam Neeson’s “Taken” character as he employs his own particular set of skills to hunt Hennessy and his band of goons at a rural safe house. In the second, Hennessy uses all his seedy back channels to untangle a web of deceit that suggests the deputy minister is more involved than he lets on.
Each thread has its highlights, but at times they feel so separate that Quan — the foreigner in the film’s title — seems to disappear from the story for long stretches of time. The various action sequences, which draw on the veteran’s longstanding arsenal of stunts, are entertaining at a level of about 90 percent, but that last 10 frequently comes across as too absurd and implausible to take seriously — at least seriously enough to match the tone Campbell’s film is trying to set.
Part of the trouble may be seeing the comic veteran Chan in such a serious role, but he seems up for the task. Rather, “The Foreigner” seems to ricochet through so many moments of strangeness — such as when we discover Sean is having an affair with his own aunt (Hennessy’s wife Mary, played by Orla Brady) — that the audience is inclined to snicker at the wrong times.
With a generous suspension of belief, Chan and Brosnan are capable enough to at least make “The Foreigner” watchable, but with a little perspective, Campbell’s film feels like a flawed product that couldn’t quite realize its potential.
“The Foreigner” is rated R for violence, language and some sexual material; running time: 114 minutes.