The Liam-Neeson-caught-in-a-pickle formula is basically its own sub-genre at this point. It’s been quite the surprising and profitable turn for Neeson, who spent his early career in dramas and light-as-a-feather comedies. Now a proven action star, he’s back once again in The Commuter, his third collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra (Run All Night, Non-Stop). Like many recent entries to Neeson’s canon, The Commuter is fairly involving until it comes time to explain what’s going on. Then the bottom falls out.
This time around Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, a life insurance salesman who, by all accounts, is a quality company man. He has a wife, Karen (Elizabeth McGovern), and son (Dean-Charles Chapman) who’s getting ready for college. His daily commuter train ride to work has been uneventful for ten years, but that changes the day he is unexpectedly laid off. While contemplating how to tell his wife the news, he’s approached by a well-dressed and attractive woman (Farmiga), who presents herself a sociologist of sorts. The small talk gets serious in a hurry. The proposition: find the out-of-place passenger on the train, tag their suspicious bag with a tracking device, collect $100,000. Sounds simple enough, but as a former cop, MacCauley smells a rat. Before he knows it, he’s in the middle of a complex and serious situation in which everyone on the train could be the target.
Collet-Serra has made his directorial mark in recent years as a specialist in closed-quarters action. He’s visually creative, as evidenced by a stunning tracking shot through the train cars and a noir-esque, shadow-filled overhead view of MacCauley walking through the train station. Questionable CGI aside, the action is well-staged, particularly a fight involving a guitar. Collet-Serra throws everything he has at an effort to dress up a dodgy script whose foundation crumbles with each passing minute in the film’s latter half. There’s not a surprise to be found in the Big Reveal as the script hashes out iffy character motivations in the talkiest, clunkiest way possible. It’s all pretty anticlimactic after a sequence that makes Steven Seagal’s escape in Under Siege 2 feel like a documentary by comparison.
While Neeson always makes for an easy to root for every-man, the helium has been leaking out of this balloon for a while now. The only surprise at this point is the location or method of travel. The Commuter is exactly the kind of film Netflix exists for; pay full price and you may feel ripped off, stream it on a rainy Sunday and you could do a lot worse.
Length: 104 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some intense action/violence, and language.
Theatrical Release: January 12, 2018
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by: Byron Willinger & Philip de Blasi & Ryan Engle
Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Sam Neill