Like any normal former TV star with free time and a cause that's caught his eye, James Van Der Beek could have done a voiceover for a documentary about Taiwan's bloody struggle for independence—instead, he plays an FBI agent in this educational thriller set in early-'80s Taiwan. After a Chicago prologue suggests that a Taiwanese-American professor and human-rights advocate may have been killed by gang members hired from across the Pacific, Jake Kelly (Van Der Beek) is dispatched to the embattled island for a look-see. Welcomed by fishy local officials and a flinty embassy liaison (Wendy Crewson), Jake starts applying his two investigative techniques: shouting "FBI!" while running full-tilt at uncomprehending local police and getting pulled into doorways by underground resisters to the nationalist government. In impromptu history chats between the American and every other person he meets, carpetbagging anti-Communist Chiang Kai-shek is recalled as the ur-villain and looter-in-chief, planting the seed for the later repression and torture of native Taiwanese. Neither the investigation nor the suspense (hobbled by editorializing) have much impact; the movie, necessarily shot in Thailand, plays like secret-history tourism, complete with archival footage haunting the screen. True to the genre, the question "What about the truth?" is raised by Jake—only to be, incredibly, summarily dismissed.
Van Der Beek: Tourist with a gun.
Opens at Meridian, Fri., April 9. Rated R. 103 minutes.