Movie Review: “The Commuter” (PG-13)
Who would have thought that Liam Neeson would go from dramatic leading man status in the ’90s (see his amazing work in “Schindler’s List” and “Rob Roy”) to a kick-ass action hero in the last decade (see “Taken” and “Non-Stop”)? The action phase of Neeson’s career continues with “The Commuter,” his latest collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra. As silly, convoluted, and preposterous as this movie is, it’s far more worth your time than the last installment in the “Taken” franchise. That might sound like faint praise, but at least it’s saying something.
In “The Commuter,” Neeson is Michael MacCauley, a hardworking family man who finds himself unexpectedly fired from a job he’s worked hard at for the last ten years of his life. As he rides the train home pondering the fashion in which he’s going to break this disheartening news to his loving and supportive wife, he’s greeted by Joanna (Vera Farmiga), a mysterious woman with an offer that could potentially relieve MacCauley of his newfound financial stress. From that point forward, things go from nuts to apeshit crazy as MacCauley attempts to identify a sought-after suspect on an extremely crowded train.
If you’re looking for a transit mystery with more upstairs, you’d be advised to watch Kenneth Branagh’s recently released adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express.” True, it’s a slow burn, but even as mind-boggling as the big reveal in the final act of that picture is, the movie as a whole does a much better job building tension and developing its characters. That said, if you’re simply looking for a transit flick that offers up mindless entertainment and perilous thrills, find a copy of “Speed” and watch that instead.
Neeson appears to be going for the kind of “I’ll protect my family at any cost” vibe that Harrison Ford excelled at in ’90s gems like “Patriot Games” and “Air Force One,” only “The Commuter” falls more in line with the Steven Seagal action flick “Under Siege 2” and the John Badham thriller “Nick of Time” starring Johnny Depp. In case you’re wondering, that isn’t really meant as a compliment. This is by no fault of Neeson, though. Even in his mid-60s, the guy commits. Furthermore, he can give a punch as good as he can take one. Sadly, Neeson is let down by a story that has far too much going on. And worse still, while ‘The Commuter” moves at a pretty quick clip, there’s never really any sense of urgency.
As directed by Collet-Serra, “The Commuter” is slick and glossy, but there are some sequences, including a one-on-one combat scene between MacCauley and a knife-wielding baddie, that aren’t even appealing in a cheesy-’80s-action-movie kind of way. It’s a shame, really, because Collet-Serra opens the movie strongly with the unique fashion in which he gives us insight into MacCauley’s family life. Once our hero springs into action on the train, however, the film becomes less and less interesting. “The Commuter” should be building towards something, but instead, it just sort of goes off the rails.
There’s an odd balance of drama, mystery, and action here that never really comes together. The tones always feel at odds with each other. One minute, the film is tackling a real-life issue, and the next, it has its central protagonist fighting a bad guy with a guitar. Through it all, though, Neeson keeps the proceedings tolerable. Not quite tolerable enough to warrant the sequel this movie sets up, however. Here’s hoping that “The Commuter” is a one and done.