It's Bond vs. Chan in gritty 'The Foreigner'

PHIL ON FILM

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - "The Foreigner" sets out to answer that old question: Who would win in a fight - Jackie Chan or 1990s James Bond Pierce Brosnan?

The answer turns out to be the audience.

Chan cuts out his usual comedic repertoire to morph into a borderline psychotic vengeance machine. Brosnan also plays against type, wearing a scruffy half-beard and scraping away his sheen of untouchable cool to play a harried, desperate politician who tangles with Chan's character in an ever-escalating battle of attrition.

Director Martin Campbell crafts the narrative like a tennis match between a ferocious server and savvy returner. Neither character is a true protagonist or villain, both operating in murky moral areas in an effort to take one another down.

Chan plays Ngoc, a retired Chinese special ops soldier who watches his daughter die in a bombing. He fixates on Liam (Brosnan), an ex-IRA politician who claims to have left his terrorist roots behind.

Ngoc assumes Liam can at least get the names of those responsible for the bombing, and is determined to squeeze him via a series of threats and covert attacks until he cooperates. Liam is, at best, uninterested in helping Ngoc, and focuses on summoning his underworld connections to neutralize Ngoc.

Both characters increasingly up the stakes of their obsessions, sacrificing their livelihoods as they go all-in to destroy one another as potential benefits for both steadily dwindle.

What might have been a macho shootout or slugfest instead keeps its ever-escalating conflict via creative means. Ngoc fights in the manner of John Rambo in "First Blood," using stealth and traps to take down heavily armed opponents. Liam pulls strings from afar via quick wits and ruthless instincts, willing to stoop to depths of depravity to preserve his false political sheen.

While I'd stop short of calling the movie "fun," its crowd-pleasing thrills keep a steady rush of slow-burning excitement flowing. While Campbell and his writing team struggle to find a convincing and satisfying ending -- this is one of those movies that just stops rather than finishes -- the journey along the way is consistently satisfying.

You've seen plenty of both Chan and Brosnan, but never like this.

RATING: 3 stars out of 4.

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