The three B-grade action flicks churned out in the past few years by star Liam Neeson and crafty, highly efficient Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra hum along with a weirdly likable, slick, machine-tooled efficiency. The duo’s newest is pretty much more of the same, only it’s sillier, less impactful and altogether worse for its lack of aspiration.
Fate intervenes. During one of his otherwise routine, five-day-a-week commuter train trips aboard the New York Metro from Westchester to Grand Central Station, an enigmatic woman who calls herself a human behavior expert (Vera Farmiga doing her thing, which is fine with us) intercepts him and offers him $100K. All he has to do is to spot a certain fellow traveler in possession of a Very Important McGuffin—someone "who doesn't belong" on that train—and plant a tracking device on him or her.
[Neeson's] talents put him miles ahead of this nonsense, of course, but he never condescends or sleepwalks.
Too damn much of the non-action requires the furrowed-browed Neeson to drag his 6'4" frame and his famed gravitas from train car to car, chasing down painfully obvious red herrings and ineptly questioning "colorful" New Yorker archetype passengers—a sweet old gent (Jonathan Banks), a fiery Columbia student (Florence Pugh, a long way down from Lady MacBeth) and an eminently punchable Wall Street shark (Shazad Latif).
Neeson, in fantastic shape, is utterly professional and hits every note he can—frustration, desperation, panic, grim determinism, an everyman sense of decency. His talents put him miles ahead of this nonsense, of course, but he never condescends or sleepwalks.
As for Collet-Serra, who is rumored to be on tap to direct Jungle Cruise for Disney, let's just says that he's previously done much snazzier, pacier, more inventive work than The Commuter. He wisely keeps the running time down to a lean 104 minutes, but—hobbled by a trainload of inadequacies, including so-so CGI—both he and cinematographer Paul Cameron (Westworld) go way too big on flash, whip pans and whizbang effects, all in a vain effort to keep the audience from talking out loud about how little sense the whole movie makes.
Even for mid-January–traditionally the dog days of cinema releases—The Commuter rattles along like an unreliable train to nowhere.
- Neeson's talents put him miles ahead
- The movie makes little sense