⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R, violence, language and some sexual material.
Legendary action star and martial arts maestro Jackie Chan gets his “Taken” moment with the terrorism thriller “The Foreigner,” directed by frequent Bond director Martin Campbell. Chan is a man seeking vengeance for the death of his daughter in a bloody London bombing. His counterpart is a grizzled former 007 himself, Pierce Brosnan, growling his way into a meaty and morally ambiguous role as former IRA member and Irish Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy, attempting to politick his way around the aftermath of the bombing, which is claimed by a rogue IRA cell.
Adapted from Stephen Leather’s novel “The Chinaman,” “The Foreigner” is only so-titled because the alternative would have caused an outcry. Chan’s character, Quan Ngoc Minh, is referred to as “the Chinaman” throughout, even though he’s Vietnamese. Despite its literary origins, the film feels a bit like a writer tossed darts at a board labeled with aging action stars and various terrorist groups and just decided to make it work. Jackie Chan vs. the Irish Republican Army? That could work.
Chan’s role is brooding, serious and simple. He wants names. Names of those responsible for his daughter’s death. Rebuffed by the police and government, he relies on his old bag of tricks, developed in the jungles of Vietnam, honed by U.S. Special Forces. He detonates homemade bombs with notes just reading “NAMES” all around the environs of deputy minister Hennessy’s stamping grounds of Belfast. He plants nasty jungle traps, ensnaring Hennessy’s thugs. All just to get some face time with the minister. These bombers certainly messed with the wrong dad.
Chan, now in his 60s, isn’t the energetic tornado he once was, but he’s still got it. His fighting style in the film is brutish, resourceful and extremely effective. Brosnan is the talker, deploying his suaveness, talking out of both sides of his mouth to British politicians and his cabal of former (or are they?) IRA militants.
It’s refreshing to see Chan in a more serious role, but he isn’t given much to do. When he isn’t in motion, he stares vacantly, communicating his shock and trauma, his character merely a violent automaton.
There’s a lot happening in “The Foreigner.” One sequence intercuts Chan being stalked through the forest by Hennessy’s special ops soldier nephew, while Hennessy chats with the British police who are surveilling him with drones, while also torturing the truth out of one of his own pals. Meanwhile, a likely terrorist seduces a reporter. So why does it feel so dull?
The IRA revival story line hampers the revenge plot, and vice versa. We never dig deep enough to care about any of the characters or plot twists. “The Foreigner” feels like halves of two different movies pasted together.
This vigilante justice story — standard fare for the aging action star — could have signaled a new turn in Chan’s career, but he has to share this movie with Brosnan’s far more fascinating plot about dynasties of terrorism. Unfortunately, neither star receives a fair shake.
Tribune News Service
Happy Death Day
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13, violence, sexual content, language, partial nudity.
It starts with Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), a sorority sister in desperate need of some sensitivity training, waking up in a strange college dorm room. Her meeting with the room’s occupant, the sweet and naive Carter Davis (Israel Broussard), is the start of a string of humiliating moments magnified by it being Tree’s birthday. Her suffering comes to an end when a man dressed in all black wearing a baby face mask attacks and kills her.
Tree wakes the next morning (that’s really the same morning) with a major sense of déjà vu and, ultimately, a murderous end to her day. It only takes Tree three or four times of being killed before she realizes that until she figures out the identity of her killer, the day will continue to repeat. But each time Tree awakens, she’s a bit weaker.
The real killer here (figuratively speaking) is that the suspect list is massively long because of Tree’s lack of caring for anyone but herself.
This is where “Happy Death Day” takes a different approach to the genre. Scott Lobdell’s script features many tropes from the horror film world. It starts with the central figure of Tree, a beautiful blonde who always seems to be wearing the wrong shoes to run away from her killer. But in a twist, she ends up being both the victim and savior in this story.
“Happy Death Day” has a body count to rival most horror movies. But because almost all the deaths are of the same person, the count could also be seen as very small. Either way, the best place where “Happy Death Day” departs from the tried-and-true horror format is having Tree be the subject of all the attacks. In a standard horror movie, the only fun is guessing in which order those trapped in an old mansion, campground, sorority house, etc., will be killed. Since that’s not in the equation, the focus goes from a morbid game of chance to a smart whodunit.
The film also features a creepy killer who covers his identity with a strange mask. A hockey mask for a killer immediately suggests there’s violence in the heart of the person wearing it. The chubby-cheeked baby face mask shouldn’t be that creepy but there’s a strangeness to the design that makes it work.
There’s a lot more that could be said about the smart way Lobdell plays out the story, but that would be unfair to the moviegoer. Just know, his writing is on target to the point that he doesn’t cheat with the plot and leaves no story strand dangling.
If all you want out of a horror film is blood and guts, “Happy Death Day” isn’t the right movie for you. Anyone looking to enjoy some scares while trying to figure out a very clever mystery should plan on seeing “Happy Death Day” ... should plan on seeing “Happy Death Day” ... should plan on seeing “Happy Death Day” ... should plan on seeing “Happy Death Day.”
RICK BENTLEY, Tribune News Service