Courtesy of Lionsagte
I don't think it's possible for me to add up all the impossibilities that take place in "The Commuter," a film that's so keen on taking itself seriously, that it never takes the time to realize it isn't. Liam Neeson has been on the rise since his post-60's resurgence playing Bryan Mills in "Taken." Before that, he was a well acclaimed actor with merits and standards. His latest, an easy paycheck I'm sure, re-teams him with French auteur Jaume Collet-Serra ("Non-Stop" and "Run All Night"). Serra and Neeson are becoming the new dynamic duo when it comes to over-the-top cheesy action movies in the same vein as those dastardly Nicolas Cage movies. Meaning: your enjoyment of "The Commuter" rests on two things A) your tolerance for a script that has such lines that include Neeson screaming "I'm done playing games!" or "Where's my family?!" about sixteen dozen times and B) your ability to just throw in the towel and accept this is watchable trash.
On those merits, "The Commuter" should satisfy those late night cravings, but what's old doesn't feel new in this race against time thriller, that puts an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. Neeson is Michael MacCauley, an ex-cop who relocated to America, from Ireland, back in the day, and is now working as an insurance agent to make ends meet after the stock market crash of 2008. In a deftly edited, well spliced, opening montage we get a glimpse into the daily routine and rituals of MacCauley. He wakes up at precisely 6 am on the dot, grabs his belongings, has a brief run in with his son, kisses his wife, and heads on his way for the daily commute. Editor Nicolas De Toth delivers the best sequence in the film, cutting back and forth between years and days, while making it look ceaseless in the execution. It’s only five minutes at max, but it really gets the film moving.
To keep the story short, Neeson gets fired from his day job ("you're a good soldier" his boss tells him "but sometimes soldiers are collateral damage"). At 60 years old, with two mortgages and a kid ready to start college, that doesn't bode well. But as fate would have it, on his ride home, he meets Joanna (Vera Farmiga) a psychologist that presents Mike with an ultimatum. Find someone on the train who doesn't belong and get $100,000 cash.
It's like, she knew he was going to be this desperate.
Naturally, Neeson stumbles upon the cash inside the bathroom and thus spirals the events in motion, Nevermind the fact, we never find out who this Joanna character is, and Farmiga has approximately three minutes of screentime. Neeson than becomes a character from "Murder On The Orient Express" trying to crack the code and solve the case (only, he doesn't have the twirly mustache.) It's a wild goose hunt to track down a culprit that has shady information on some type of conspiracy (what is that conspiracy? we never find out.) But "The Commuter" makes the biggest mistake of taking its audience for granted. A plot that has multiple red herrings you can see coming from a train station away, it's silly to think anyone couldn't figure this film out in the first ten minutes. So none of it feels refreshing, and just to add more complications to the mix, Joanna confirms that her goons have kidnapped Mike's family.
But Neeson, being the wise noble storytelling comrade he is, says his lines with such gusto he actually believes what he's saying. He prances around this train for almost two hours, walking up to perfect strangers, looking through their bags and nobody stops to think why? I will say that some of the white knuckle beatdowns that have grown accustomed to his films, are well in tact here. I don't know what it is, but seeing Neeson, well past his prime, going toe to toe with a thug with nothing but a guitar to defend him, brings such joy to me. At 60 years old, Neeson is versatile as ever. Even if you question how anyone, let alone an aging man that huffs just waking up the stairs, can take multiple beatings and wipe it off like they're immortal.
By the ending, which in itself is bad in the most obnoxious way, if your brain hasn't turned to cottage cheese, than perhaps you got something out of this movie. Someday you might see "The Commuter" lying around in the depths of HBO cable programming, and maybe you'll flip it on. But don't let that distract you from the fact it's really just a giant trainwreck. C-