With apologies to Forrest Gump, lately Liam Neeson movies have been anything but a box of chocolates—you always know exactly what you’re gonna get. And that’s particularly true if the man directing said movies is Jaume Collet-Serra, as it has been much of the time. Before 2016’s The Shallows, Collet-Serra’s previous three films were all Neeson starrers, heavy on action and light on much else. 2011’s Unknown, 2014’s Non-Stop, and 2015’s Run All Night landed squarely in the world of “perfectly fine”, so long as watching an aging actor single-handedly dispatch of baddies in a time-sensitive, precarious situation is your thing.
Enter The Commuter, which finds Neeson back once again in full Taken mode. He’s got a gun, he’s on the right side of the law, and he can overcome any number of obstacles facing him (even if a single one of them would be enough to stop the average human being).
This go-round he’s Michael McCauley, a former cop who spends his days hawking life insurance. After a nifty little opening credits prelude that gives us a real sense of the day-to-day drudgery he endures (kiss the wife goodbye at the station, hop on the train to the city, pound out the nine-to-five, and ride the rails back home), he walks into the office one morning and gets unceremoniously fired. As it so happens (though the coincidence is moderately justified as the movie nears the finish line), the ride home that afternoon is anything but drudgery.
When a mysterious woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga, whose talents are hopelessly squandered in a teency role) approaches him on the train with a hypothetical, it doesn’t take long to realize it’s much more than just polite conversation. There’s a person on the train, she says, and that person doesn’t belong. If he can figure it out who it is and recover the stolen item that’s in the person’s bag, he gets a cool hundred-grand. Is he interested?
Well, of course he is, especially once he finds out that Joanna is part of a larger plot and that the people involved have kidnapped Michael’s wife and teenage son. The rub is that Michael has no real way of finding out who the person in question is. And the clock is tick-tick-ticking; he only has a little over an hour to accept the job, find the person, and then turn the tables to foil the bad guys’ plan.
Collet-Serra, to his credit, does an admirable job putting all the pieces together and keeping the movie humming along. The further the train goes, the more the (moderate) suspense is amped up, and Neeson is more than up for the task. He may not be the spry youngster who, more than a decade ago, traded blows with Christian Bale in Batman Begins (also on a speeding commuter train, for what it’s worth), but he can still take care of himself in a fight.
The script by committee (including Non-Stop writer Ryan Engle, which explains why The Commuter feels very familiar) certainly has its moments, but it’s the type that you’ll discover has plot holes a mile wide, should you choose to think about it…which I advise against. There’s no disguising the fact that Neeson will not only figure out who the person of interest is but also save the entire train, squash the villains, and rescue his family. Gee, I sure hope I didn’t give anything away there.
No, the movie isn’t original in the least, but it’s a solid, decent ride, and, heck, there’s a reason the Key & Peele valets got all crazy about their boy Neeson. He’s still got it, and he helps make The Commuter—well, perfectly fine.