Liam Neeson has carved out a nice little action hero niche for himself, and The Commuter wants to add to that library. It tells the story of an ex-cop who has to deduce the identity of a passenger on his train ride home. If he doesn’t, a mysterious cabal will harm his family. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?
If only The Commuter thought so. Instead, we end up with one of the least enjoyable Liam Neeson action flicks in his entire career.
Why So Serious?
Director Jaume Collet-Serra has teamed up with Neeson three times in the past for similar high concept action-thrillers: Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night. Those have all had a sense of propulsive fun and even knowing schlockiness. The Commuter doesn’t. The film is incredibly straight-faced and that grimly serious tone clashes with the inherently over-the-top story.
It feels like The Commuter wanted to stray closer to the Taken films in tone. That works for that series because of the brutal violence and grisly nature of the story. The Commuter is a much flightier idea but approaches itself with a disappointing lack of glee. If it let loose a bit, it could have some legs.
Hat on a Hat (on Another Hat)
In writing, there is a term called, “hat on a hat.” It means having an idea but then stacking another idea on top of it which distracts or muddles the original idea. That happens with The Commuter right away. The setup has Liam Neeson’s character given the proposition of figuring out the identity of a passenger on this train. If he does, he’ll plant a GPS tracking device on this person’s bag and he’ll be paid handsomely.
But, then it turns out that he must to do this task because his family has been taken captive. And on top of that, it all ties into some giant cover-up involving a faked suicide and corruption and… you see what I mean? The simple and admittedly compelling premise gets bogged down in a convoluted plot that also negatively affects the film’s pacing.
And while the action sequences are solid and deliver what you want out of this kind of movie, they mostly take a backseat to the unfolding mystery. And that mystery is painfully dragged out and even becomes highly predictable towards the film’s climax. That’s a shame because Collet-Serra is able to construct a handful of energetic fight scenes that make clever use of the tight quarters of the train. Too bad that they are so few and far between.
Is The Commuter Good?
It’s the weakest of the Neeson/Collet-Serra team-up films — please watch Run All Night — and its few bright spots are overshadowed by the film’s many other missteps. There’s a good but underutilized cast, a promising premise that’s undercut by a dour tone, and not enough action to justify the weak story. As a fan of Liam Neeson’s action output, this was a serious disappointment.
At least I’ll save you the pain of me making some train-themed pun at this movie’s expense. That’s where I draw the line. Wait, does “the line” count as a pun? Dang.
The Commuter opens January 12, 2018.