The Foreigner is a straight-up revenge porn flick, along the lines of Taken or Death Wish. Jackie Chan plays a Chinese restaurant owner/former South Vietnamese guerrilla who has become a naturalized British citizen and lives to dote on his teenage daughter, the only family he has left after his other daughters were killed by Thai pirates and his wife met an equally tragic end. When his last remaining daughter and reason for living is killed in an IRA bombing in London, this tragic back-story makes it so that Jackie Chan has only one option left: to rain vengeful death down upon the bombers, using the particular set of skills he acquired in the jungles of Vietnam.
This is of course the same template used in every other avenging father film, a craze most recently re-ignited by Liam Neeson. But The Foreigner adds a few extra layers that help set it apart. First of all, the actual filmmaking, though dreary, is very competent. The film opens on a cool shot looking straight down at an architecturally interesting facade as our characters begin to enter the frame, and it uses other film school tricks, like a nifty split mirroring shot of Chan looking sad and forlorn in an empty room. This isn't to say that the visual language of the film is revelatory, but it is well done so while we know we are watching a film based on a well-worn template, it is at least executed with workmanlike diligence.
Secondly, the film is well-acted. Pierce Brosnan plays Chan's main antagonist, a reformed IRA member now Deputy Minister of Ireland. This character is actually more textured and complex than he has any right to be, given the simplicity of the film he is in. But he is not just a straight up bad guy, and the reason this works is because of Brosnan's skill as an actor. While the revenge story line dominates the film, there is also a parallel police procedural unfolding to discover the identity of the bombers, and this plot line actually works quite well, even as it dives into the minutiae of British-Irish politics and history, sustained mainly by the quality of the acting.
Third, this movie functions as an interesting look at an iconic action star as he enters the twilight of his career. One would expect that a movie with Jackie Chan hell-bent on revenge would feature a lot of flying kicks to the face. And there are a few of those, but Jackie is now in his 60s and it's impossible to hide the fact that he can't do the awe-inspiring stuff that used to be his bread and butter. The film leans into this, turning a liability into an asset. It's no longer possible to simply film Chan in an unbroken take of pure badass action, so the film embraces a grittiness in its fight scenes, showing Chan slugging it out in brutal, ugly brawls.
He rolls out of a window at one point and uses a storm train to escape from a roof, but he doesn't do it with the fluid athleticism we expect from Jackie Chan; it's more like falling with style and it looks like it hurts. Chan's character ultimately relies more on guerrilla tactics, like punji sticks and homemade bombs, then he does on being able to jump over a wall in a single take. While it's a shame that it is now necessary to edit around a Jackie Chan fight sequence, it also functions as a kind of interesting inflection point on his career and the inevitability of aging.
Lastly, the film flirts with the idea of being in on the joke, which makes it even more fun. The style of the movie is very self-serious, and Chan plays his character straight without a whiff of irony. But because the premise is so silly, there are moments when it seems to acknowledge this implicitly, like when Chan swoops into a room of bad guys dressed like the gas man and kills all of them, only for police commandos to show up a second after he is gone and find everybody is already dead. This is so ludicrous that you have to believe the filmmakers knew it would play with a kind of sardonic hilarity. Much of the film flirts with that undertone, and I liked it.
This movie is not going to change anyone's life, but it is a fun way to spend 2 hours watching an old Jackie Chan trudge around blowing up cars and then occasionally unleashing a flurry of punches on an Irish rogue. While that tag line might not sound like the most appealing thing, the movie somehow manages to rise above the limits of its own trope.