Jack Chan usually makes lightweight comedies, but British director Martin Campbell’s “The Foreigner” (*** OUT OF ****), co-starring Pierce Brosnan, is a change of pace for the Asian action superstar. Typically, Chan orchestrates lots of nimble, gravity-defying fights in his films where he defeats his colorful adversaries without killing them. Although the bouts in “The Foreigner” aren’t elaborately operatic, all the pugnacious, close-quarter, combat encounters here are staged with an intense, bone-crunching ferocity as our Hong Kong native gives as good as he gets from the villains. Of course, at age 63, Chan cannot cavort the same acrobatic abandon that he mustered in his heyday in over-the-top epics like “Amour of the Gods” (1986) and “Project A” (1987). Nevertheless, the “Foreigner” fights bristle with a brutal, slam-bang quality that owe much more to improvised spontaneity as well as gritty realism than anything Chan has done in his Kung Fu features. Anybody who has seen Chan’s recent, lackluster straight-to-video releases, primarily “The Railway Tigers” and “Kung Fu Yoga,” knows that he hasn’t attempted to top any of his earlier feats of dynamic derring-do. Ultimately, one of the biggest differences that Chan’s fans will spot in “The Foreigner” is his tight-lipped solemnity. He doesn’t play his usual happy-go-lucky guy, and he rarely smiles in this morally complex, 114-minute, rated R opus. Furthermore, as a hero driven by revenge, Chan channels Sylvester Stallone’s rugged, survivalist Rambo hero, even to the point of dressing his own wounds as he lone wolfs it against the opposition in their own backyard. At the same time, none of this would seem half as gripping were Pierce Brosnan’s suave but ruthless, IRA-villain not as treacherous as he is in his post-James Bond career. Happily, “The Foreigner” leaves both individuals intact at fade-out, but the world they are left to confront has been altered irrevocably for the worst.
Basically, “The Foreigner” is a tenacious revenge thriller in the tradition of “First Blood,” “Death Wish,” and “Taken,” that casts Chan as a highly-decorated U.S. Special Forces soldier who fought in the Vietnam War and has suffered his share of heartache. Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan of “Drunken Master”) lives in London, England, where he runs an Asian restaurant. He lost his wife to pirates long ago in the Orient, and his twenty-something daughter (Katie Leung of “T2 Trainspotting”) is last surviving relative. As the story unfolds, she wants to buy a dress for a date, and Quan chauffeurs her to a dress shop. She hasn’t even introduced her boyfriend to her father, but he wants the best for her. No sooner has Quan’s daughter entered the dress shop than a bomb explodes, shattering an otherwise ordinary day, and kills her. Grief-stricken, Quan learns that his daughter’s death amounts to collateral damage from an IRA terrorist act. Quan approaches a diplomat, Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan of “Die Another Day”), who has old ties with the IRA, and pleads for him to give him the names of those who detonated the bomb. The grizzled, bespectacled Hennessy claims that he knows nothing about the bombers and argues that his IRA days are long behind him. Indeed, he is intent on preserving the peace between Ireland and England, and he doesn’t need Quan sticking his nose into what may be something bigger than he imagines. Quan doesn’t believe Hennessy, and he embarks on his own bombing campaign to force Hennessy to cough up the names. Ironically, Hennessy discovers that a rogue bunch of IRA terrorists calling themselves ‘the authentic IRA’ are responsible for the bombing. Interestingly, what he doesn’t know is that some of his own people may be at odds with him in their aims. Although he is a 60-year old man, Quan hasn’t forgotten how to wage war. He menaces Hennessy with one bomb attack after another. No matter where Hennessy goes to evade Quan, the Asian interloper shows up and reminds him that danger isn’t far from his doorstep. Hennessy discovers that taking care of this formidable, 60-year old guy is no picnic.
Martin Campbell, who directed the James Bond movies “GoldenEye” (1995) and “Casino Royale” (2006) as well as the two Antonio Banderas westerns “The Mask of Zorro” (1998) and “The Legend of Zorro” (2005) has experienced his share of highs and lows during his 44-year career. Recently, he helmed the disastrous DC Comics superhero saga “Green Lantern” (2011) with Ryan Reynolds that barely recouped its $200-million budget. Since the debacle of “The Green Lantern,” Campbell has languished for the last six years helming episodic television shows as well as made-for-television movies. Despite his James Bond and Zorro movies, Campbell has a less than spectacular record of accomplishment. Occasionally, he has made a movie such as “Vertical Limit” (2000) with Chris O’Donnell that turned a profit. More often than not, his films have either barely recouped their budgets, such as the uneven Mel Gibson thriller “Edge of Darkness” (2010) or tanked outright, like the Angela Jolie drama “Broken Borders” (2003). Despite this hit and miss record, Campbell is a good, solid, efficient director with a sense of cinematic flair that overshadows his less than successful films. Campbell’s Jackie Chan actioneer “The Foreigner” faces an uphill struggle because the Hong Kong superstar hasn’t starred in a notable film since 2010’s “The Karate Kid” where he played second banana to Jaden Smith. Aside from his high grossing animated epics, Chan’s movies cannot compare with his best films made well over twenty years ago. Produced for $90 million, “Rush Hour 2” ranks as Chan’s highest grossing movie at $347-million. Meantime, Chan’s fans have something to look forward to with “The Foreigner.” This white-knuckled, no-nonsense thriller goes where most thrillers fear to tread. Not only do some characters die tragically, but also the survivors face the consequences of their actions. Campbell and “Enemy of the State” scenarist David Marconi don’t sugarcoat the action. You’ll leave “The Foreigner” with its unsavory ending feeling entertained, but sobered by its stark realism.