The Foreigner: Jackie Chan as Irish 'Rambo' is great, the rest not so much

By Jim Slotek

(Rating: B-minus)

It boasts an unlikely plot about the reigniting of “The Troubles” with young, rogue boyos, and a reverse-Rambo scenario wherein a vengeful Jackie Chan wages guerilla war in the woods outside Belfast.

And yet, compared to the silliness to which this screen legend has devoted himself in recent years, The Foreigner, from Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) is arguably the most meaty film Chan has made in a long time.

On the other hand - like that episode of The Big Bang Theory wherein they realize that, without Indiana Jones, the events in Raiders Of The Lost Ark would have happened anyway - Chan’s participation is ultimately extraneous to an anachronistic plot about high-level government types trying desperately to reconcile “The Troubles 2.0.”

 Chan goes "Full Metal Jackie" against the "new IRA."

Chan goes "Full Metal Jackie" against the "new IRA."

It’s based on Stephen Leather’s 1992 novel The Chinaman (a title that was discarded for obvious reasons, though the epithet is thrown around freely in the movie). And that novel at the time fit perfectly with the zeitgeist, when Britain and terror factions in Northern Ireland were negotiating their way out of a murderous gravity well.

The Troubles are a tourist attraction now. Belfast cabbies brag about how many people were killed in bombings at your hotel back in the day. And Northern Irish Millennials, having lived without overt acrimony and sectarian violence all their lives, seem unlikely to start it all up again.

At this point, the only killing in Northern Ireland is on the set of Game Of Thrones, and worrying about the IRA seems akin to worrying about the Fenians.

And yet, The Foreigner has to make this all seem credible, with brutal police crackdowns, torture and murder, and covert deals between top government officials and “the other side” (alongside modern-day contrivances like GPS and drones).

Chan plays Quan Ngoc Minh, a Chinese-Vietnamese restaurateur in London whose daughter is killed in a bombing at a high-end clothier while she’s choosing a prom dress. A couple of weeks of no-arrests have him personally visiting/annoying the chief investigator (Ray Fearon) and a top Irish pol with an IRA past named Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan).

Convinced that Hennessy knows the identity of the bombers, Quan focuses on him, and begins jury-rigging warning bombs before upping the ante to a more lethal degree. (Turns out Quan is ex-Special Services from the ‘Nam era).

There really are two stories in The Foreigner, though Quan figures in both. Hennessy is being undermined by other lions in the IRA old guard, while playing point-man with the British government. He’s got a girlfriend and a wife, neither of whom is fond of him.

It’s a race against time as the young bombers look to take out more lives (one bridge attack is very reminiscent of a London jihadi one of recent vintage, which makes the movie’s focus seem even more anachronistic).

Meanwhile, it’s hard to get things done when there’s an Asian man in the woods outside your cottage, his face muddied, hiding under leaves, ready to take out your security men.

I loved Jackie Chan as an Asian Rambo wreaking havoc in a Western country. He pulls it off with full deference to his age, wincing with every fall, occasionally being overpowered. I would have gleefully watched a whole movie of that. Unfortunately, there’s all this other stuff.

The political-intrigue/action film would have been spot-on if they’d simply set it when it belonged. It’s a script fix so simple, you wonder why they didn’t do it. And I don’t consider it a spoiler to say, watch the movie, and ask yourself how things would have turned out any differently if Quan/Chan weren’t there.

The Foreigner. Directed by Martin McDonald. Starring Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Ray Fearon. Opening wide, Friday, October 13.