Grav­ity, physics, logic ir­rel­e­vant in The Com­muter

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - PETER HOW­ELL Toronto Star

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.

JAY MAID­MENT, LI­ON­S­GATE

Liam Nee­son as Michael in “The Com­muter.”

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