“The Foreigner” is the most “this is not what I expected this to be in the slightest” movie I have seen so far in 2017. It’s about 25% Jackie Chan action flick, 75% multi-layered conspiracy thriller about the subtle, tricky intergovernmental relations between Ireland and Britain. This movie honestly feels like it was supposed to be entirely about the latter topic until someone suggested “throw in Jackie Chan” as a joke. But when the script was passed around, nobody realized the Chan stuff was a joke, and they greenlit it anyway, thinking it was “Taken” meets “Rush Hour” (wait, that’s pretty much just “Rush Hour.”) Yes, “The Foreigner” is based on a book, but it feels like incomplete parts of different movies stitched together.
The movie doesn’t necessarily misuse Chan as much as it under-utilizes him. We nearly forget about Chan’s character Quon Ngoc Minh because he’s off-screen for such extended periods. During these off times, Pierce Brosnan is running the show as Liam Hennessy, an Irish government official with the single most Irish name ever. Hennessy is being hunted by Minh because he supposedly knows the individuals responsible for the murder of Minh’s daughter.
It sounds cool on paper: Chan channeling his inner Rambo! Brosnan ditching his British accent for an Irish one! But any thrilling piece of action or intrigue we get from Chan is drowned is a needless pool of over-complicated, uninteresting political dribble. It isn’t that it’s too difficult to understand, its just that we simply don’t care by the time we know everything that’s going on.
“The Foreigner” still deserves credit for staying true to its source inspiration, a novel called “The Chinaman” by Stephen Leather. Not often do we see movies about political intrigue happening in countries other than our own, let alone between Ireland and Britain. But it’s easy to see now where so many of the film’s faults originated, trying to boil down a longer novel into a 2-hour flick, and in turn, losing the essence of what made that novel great in the first place.