Gravity, physics, logic irrelevant in The Commuter
Quickly, quickly, there’s no time!
Liam Neeson’s best-before date as action hero rapidly approaches, as witness the fact that at age 65, he qualifies for the senior’s discount on the rat-race rail conveyance he rides in “The Commuter.”
A real train-wreck of a movie, it’s the latest and least of the now four thrillers he’s made with director Jaume Collet-Serra, a director who has previously set Neeson on the hoof in “Unknown,” “Non-Stop” and “Run All Night.”
Collet-Serra considers things like gravity, physics and logic to be irrelevant to plots that barely make a lick of sense, especially this one.
Sixty-five isn’t the screen age of Neeson’s character Michael McCauley, of course, although he could certainly use the price break. An ex-copper for the NYPD now toiling as an insurance salesperson, he and his wife (Elizabeth McGovern) and college-bound son (DeanCharles Chapman) were already struggling financially (although she drives a BMW) before Michael’s boss summarily fires him one sunny August morning, no reason given.
A few rueful brewskies later, Michael commences the rueful return to his suburban Tarrytown home via commuter train he rides ever weekday, as he puzzles out how to tells his wife the bad news. Opportunity knocks in the curious presence of a mysterious smiling woman (Vera Farmiga) whom he hasn’t seen in his carriage before.
In a scene out of lesser “Twilight Zone” episode or Hitchcock film, she engages in B-movie banter (“What kind of person are you?”) before offering him $100,000 to use his proverbial “unique set of skills” to track down and identify for her a person she seeks on the train.
Sounds simple enough, if completely dodgy, but the catch is Michael has never seen or heard of this person before and he has almost no clue as to who it is. He barely has time to puzzle over the ethics of the situation when the ante gets upped — he learns his family has been kidnapped and they’ll be goners if he doesn’t comply.
Also, the clock is ticking. He has to identify the stranger before the train reaches a certain destination. Oh, and he’s lost his cellphone and will keep having to borrow other people’s.
The story becomes ridiculously complicated as Michael frantically tries to solve the puzzle aboard a train that will eventually go from merely speeding to zooming out of control. The woman’s aggravated complaint to Michael — “I asked you to do one little thing!” — becomes unintentionally hilarious as one absurd situation after another is piled on.
Somebody yells, “Mike, this is crazy!” and all you can do is nod in agreement.
Neeson is the rare actor who can make something as dumb as this reasonably diverting, at least until you run out of patience with an increasingly arcane scheme. It’s a little sad to see an actor of his character continue to accept these paycheque gigs, which he’s increasingly OK’d since the unexpected success of “Taken” a decade ago made him a middle-aged action hero.
He has a lot of riders on the paycheque train. Besides McGovern and Farmiga, who are both better actors than this film gives them credit for, “The Commuter” also has characters played by Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Killian Scott, “Mudbound’s” Jonathan Banks and Lady Macbeth breakout Florence Pugh. That’s a lot of talent to waste on a train ride to nowhere.
Liam Neeson as Michael in “The Commuter.”