“The Foreigner” is as generic and disposable as its title, hobbling Jackie Chan’s inherent likability by turning him into a grief-stricken revenge machine. Those hoping for a sleek action vehicle on the order of “Taken” will likely wind up feeling taken for a ride.
Chan plays Quan, who is rocked in the early going by the death of his grown daughter in a terrorist blast. The group claiming credit is the “Authentic IRA” (the film is based on a 1992 novel by Stephen Leather, unfortunately titled “The Chinaman”), but for all any of that matters, they might as well be called “Acme Terrorists.”
Seemingly crazed by his sorrow, Quan keeps questioning authorities for the names of who bears responsibility for his daughter’s death. When a deputy minister with past IRA ties, Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), turns up on TV, Quan travels to Ireland, insisting that Hennessy cough up the names, and beginning what amounts to a reign of terror in the interim.
Directed by Martin Campbell – whose credits include two Bond movies: “Casino Royale” and one of Brosnan’s Bond outings, “Goldeneye” – “The Foreigner” feels as ill-conceived as Quan’s half-baked plan. Indeed, the fact that his guerrilla tactics begin to yield information and lead him closer to his objective plays like an arbitrary excuse for a series of action sequences that show off Chan’s version of special skills.
Quan, it turns out, is a one-time special-something-or-other officer (a point sparingly explained), and even in his 60s, the veteran action star can still credibly pull off an impressive array of stunts and close-quarter fight sequences.
Still, those interludes are actually relatively few and far between, and because of the gritty tone, lack the buoyancy of the acrobatic antics for which Chan is known. Beyond that, “The Foreigner” bogs down in the politics of the bombing and the formal investigation, which involves plenty of ruthlessness and callousness all around.
Chan is perfectly fine as a man who feels he has nothing to lose (“I have no more family,” he laments early on), but his hollowed-out gaze and “Death Wish”-style crusade can’t compensate for how numbingly thin this all is, stringing together just enough plot to justify the eruptions of violence.
Produced with financing help from Chinese companies, “The Foreigner” feels like a deal in search of a movie – as if someone said, “Hey, we’ve got Jackie Chan and this much cash, what can we make with that?” Not enough, it turns out, for even Chan to have a reasonable shot of salvaging it.
“The Foreigner” opens Oct. 13 in the U.S. It’s rated R.