I wish I had been in the room when the studios behind The Foreigner were working with focus groups and image consultants while they tried to figure out just how bland, exactly, the title needed to be.
The Foreigner is based on the 1992 potboiler The Chinaman. Now, obviously, no movie in America is going to be released with a title like The Chinaman—it's not the preferred nomenclature, dude—but it would've been a far superior option than what the studio ended up going with. Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) and his IRA pals in the movie dismissively refer to Jackie Chan's Quan Ngoc Minh as "the Chinaman" on numerous occasions.
That insult is key to understanding why Hennessy and his goons spend the movie underestimating Minh, a restaurateur whose daughter was killed in an IRA bombing in London. Despite the fact that the refugee is able repeatedly to get close enough to Hennessy to plant bombs that could kill him—in his office; in his car; on his farm—he is little more than a faceless minority, a nothing to be brushed aside. There's a cautionary tale about the cost of bigotry in that title, a warning against letting skin color cloud your judgment.
Again, though, I get it. The PR headaches that would accompany selling a movie called The Chinaman simply aren't worth a movie title that makes sense. But why settle on a title as horribly bland and nonsensical as The Foreigner? It's like they ran "Chinaman" through Google translate from English to Inoffensive in order to find something no one except film critics frustrated by the boringness of the film and its title could possibly object to. They could've called it The Cook and kept the same sensibility of underestimating the opposition, giving Hennessy a line like "Why can't ye stop this wanker, he's JUST A COOK!" Maybe they could have gone with something like The Ghost, since Minh's character appears and disappears at will, disrupting the lives and businesses of his IRA opponents? Or maybe focus the title on what the movie is actually about: The IRA?
What's stranger about The Foreigner than its awful name is the fact that it's being sold as, basically, Jackie Chan's Taken or John Wick But With a Dead Daughter Instead of a Dead Dog. But that's not really the movie on the screen, the majority of which is focused on Hennessy and his efforts to regain control of the IRA and cement his place in the British government by helping solve a rash of terrorist bombings. Jackie Chan's tale of revenge almost feels like an afterthought, some kung fu seasoning sprinkled on a sub-Clancy spy thriller in order to keep audiences from nodding off.
Chan, best known for doing his own martial arts work and taking a winking tone at the absurdity of his pictures, plays Minh with a dour intensity that befits a father who has lost all three of his daughters over the years to violence, but that feels strange coming from this actor. And I'm not entirely sure Brosnan can do a convincing Irish accent for two hours straight—odd, since he's Irish.
Oddly structured and seemingly confused about just who, exactly, its focus should be, The Foreigner is intermittently entertaining—the audience with whom I saw it was often laughing at moments that did not seem intentionally humorous—but not at all worth making a special trip out for.