While based on a novel that was first published back in 1992, Martin Campbell's The Foreigner certainly shares DNA with Pierre Morel's Taken -- at least from a development strategy standpoint. Both are Europe-set action thrillers featuring an older star as a father looking to get vengeance for a crime against his daughter. Within that ken, it can easily be called derivative, with Jackie Chan taking on the Liam Neeson role, but much like how the first Taken did manage to catch a spark, The Foreigner is actually quite a bit of fun and an above-average bit of cinema.
Adapted by David Marconi, the set-up is certainly familiar, but does try and put its own spin on things. At the outset, Jackie Chan's Quan Ngoc Minh seems like an ordinary man -- a small business owner living in London who is rocked by the death of his daughter in an IRA terrorist attack. Rather than just grieving and hiding from the world, however, he decides to make it his responsibility to find the people responsible. Specifically, he sets his target on Liam Hennessey (Pierce Brosnan), a government official with IRA history, who Quan believes knows who is responsible for the attack.
All while trying to put out political fires and find the identities of the attackers, a frantic Hennessey entirely dismisses Quan... but this turns out to be a massive mistake. As it happens, Quan has a seriously dark past and a military history, two things that drive him to never stop until he accomplishes his goal. Believing that Hennessey's ignorance is fake, he begins to literally terrorize his target with homemade incendiary devices and roadside explosives, forcing expediency in Hennessey's investigation and the revelation of the full truth behind an entire string of London bombings.
The Foreigner tries tremendously hard to try and weave a wicked little web, setting up certain maneuvers within the British government, dealing with the politics of the IRA, and orchestrating mole hunts -- but eventually it can't help but feel weighed down by it all. Truthfully, the movie is at its best when it's keeping things simple, specifically with the game of cat and mouse that plays out between Pierce Brosnan and Jackie Chan. Brosnan is certainly no lightweight, being one of the few men on Earth to play James Bond, but it's impressive fun to watch Chan repeatedly put him on his ass. The gag of Hennessey feeling he's safe only to find Quan laying a bomb/sneaking into his house/fucking up another part of his life gets a lot of mileage over the course of the film, but it also never gets old, and gets a laugh each time.
As such, both Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan get a lot of points for really carrying the film, as it's primarily their performances that keep you engaged. Frankly, despite the sympathy generated from the death of his daughter, Quan is hardly a likable character, and puts a lot of innocent people in harm's way -- but he gets a long leash thanks to decades of charming, and charismatic exciting Jackie Chan performances (and it remains as amazing as ever to watch him fight). From a character standpoint, Brosnan is certainly given the more complex, stronger material to work with, and he does a great job selling the politically-minded Hennessey, who is clearly an antagonist, but you're never entirely sure exactly how bad he is.
The Foreigner is at least somewhat welcome if not just for providing an opportunity for Jackie Chan to transition into the next stage of his career, where he can continue being a legitimate action star, albeit with the added hook that he's more than twice as old as your average 30-year-old ass-kicker. Beyond that, however, it's an average movie through and through -- perhaps worth seeing eventually, but with no real rush required.
NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.
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