For a review of ‘ The Commuter,”
Spanish film maker Jaume Collet-Serra has carved out a nice niche for himself as a purveyor of elegantly-craft-eds chlock. Although he started in horror, Col let- Ser-ra has found a groove with highly efficient, extremely effective thrillers. His 2016 feature“The Shallows” became a cultural phenome-non with the simplest of premises: Blake Lively vs. shark. In his latest effort“The Commuter ,” he teams up for the fourth time with his muse, Liam Neeson, for a pop no ir set aboard a com-muter train :“Conspiracy on the 6:25 to Cold Spring .” Michael(Neeson) is amid-d le-class family man, his happy, suburban life detailed in a brilliant opening mon-t age of morning sat home and on the way to work, on the train he’ s taken for 10 years into Manhattan to sell life insurance. On this par-ticular day, Michael is uncer-emoniously fired, five years from retirement, no sever-ance, with his mortgage due and his kid imminent ly departing for a pricey pri-vate college. He’ s two beers deep on the train when a strange woman( Vera Farmiga) approaches him. Purporting to be a behavioral scientist, she puts forth a hypothetical question that turns out to be all too real. Would you find and do something to another pas-senger on this train for $100,000? Of course, it’ s much more complicated than that, but as soon as Michael gets a whiff of the cash, he’ s already in too deep with a shadowy, anonymous, murderous mob. He’ s obli-gated to search for a passen-ger going by “Prynne.” Trains have always made great settings for thrillers—going back as far as 1896, when “Arrival of a Train” thrilled and terrified audi-- enc es. Collet-Serra makes good use of the limitations, opportunities and unique situation soft his particular train, carrying friends, strangers and enemies alike. The jocular characters are reminiscent of the everyday folk that gave“Speed” so much of its charm. It’ s fun to imagine Col let-Serra hopping a Metro-North train from Grand Cen-tral and falling in love with the details of its specific and contained culture. Col let-Serra’ s rich depiction of train life is a sensory plunge into the hustling chaos that is ex acting in its precision. He and cinematographer Paul Cameron utilize viscer-al hand-held camera work alongside dizzyingly elabo-rate zoo ms between punched passenger tickets. The bold style breath es life into the rather generic script by Byron Willinger, Philip de Bl asia nd Ryan Eng le, which is a serviceable mystery with some tepid social com-mentary about big banks and bad systems stomping on the little guy. In the current state of Ne es on’ s career, he’ s am an with a very specific set of skills. And here, he’ s an ex-cop, trained to observe ti cs of human behavior and assess threats. As the mys-tery dee pens, his goals evolve, not content with just finishing his task, but finish-ing the entire group that put him in this sorry mess. It’ s at this point when the story, well, derails. The twisty tale keeps pointing toward“a conspira-cy ,” behind the motive for Michael’ s increasingly har-rowing task, but it never explains what the conspira-cy is, so when anyone is revealed to have been apart of said conspiracy, it falls flat. All of the elements are there for stylish and suspenseful flick, but the suspense seems to have been forgotten. Ultimately, “The Commuter” gets the job done, but it won’t get hearts racing.
“The Commuter,” a Lionsgate release, is rated PG- 13 for some intense action/ violence, and language. Running time: 104 minutes.
Could it be that Hugh Grant was born to play a villainous dandy in a kid’smovie? He certainly seems to be having the time of his life hamming it up in “Paddington 2” as a pretentious, hasbeen actor who’s now relegated to dressing up like a spaniel for dog food commercials. His delight is contagious.
The family- friendly sequel to the 2014 film about a talking bear cub - already a monster hit in England, as well as aBAFTAnominee for best British movie— is a charmer from its first actionpacked frames to its over- thetop jailhouse- musical scene during the end credits.
The heart of the movie, directed by Paul King, is once again the title character ( voiced by Ben Whishaw): an exceedingly polite but flamboyantly clumsy talking bear from Peru who now lives full- time in London with the Brown family. He has won over just about everyone within a one- mile radius— with the exception of a nosy neighbor ( Peter Capaldi), who might as well be called Mr. Brexit for his suspicious view of outsiders — palling around with the garbage collector, random bike commuters and the local antiques dealer, Mr. Gruber ( Jim Broadbent).
It’s at Gruber’s oddities shop that the story gets started, as Paddington comes across a gorgeous pop- up book that he wants to buy for his beloved Aunt Lucy— the bear who raised him, voiced by Imelda Staunton— for her 100th birthday. The only problem is the unaffordable price. Paddington starts picking up odd jobs to save up, but before he can purchase the one- of- akind present, the devious Phoenix Buchanan ( Grant) swoops in and steals the treasure from the store, for mysterious reasons.
That’s bad enough, but it gets worse: The police collar Paddington for the crime and send him to prison. Brown family matriarch Mary ( Sally Hawkins) sets about trying to prove her adopted son’s innocence. In the meantime, the furry marmalade addict has to learn to make it alone behind bars.
It’s not going to be easy. “Mrs. Brown usually reads me a story before bed,” Paddington tells the warden, earnestly, while being escorted to his cell.
As you can imagine, the other inmates aren’t easily won over by Paddington’s favorite adages — “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right,” he promises— but even they can’t resist his adorable mug. Soon, Knuckles McGinty ( Brendan Gleeson), the most fearsome of criminals, has come around.
Gleeson, like Grant, does sublimely silly work here, although the latter remains the main attraction, thanks in part to his costumed alter egos — which include a seductive nun — and his lengthy conversations with mannequins dressed up as famous fictional characters. ( The actor was singled out by the BAFTAs with a bestsupporting-actor nomination.)
As with the first installment, based on Michael Bond’s series of children’s books, the sequel is stunning to look at, with inventive, colorful sets and such crafty interludes as a sequence in which Paddington imagines himself and his Aunt Lucy frolicking through the pages of the elusive pop- up book.
“Paddington 2” leans a little heavily on its simplistic message: There’s good in everyone. Still, that’s worth remembering during these divisive times. Maybe all it needs is a lovable bear to drive the point home.
“Paddington 2,” aWarner Bros. Picture release, is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor. Running time: 103 minutes. ½
Ben Whishaw provides the voice for the character Paddington in the new Warner Bros. Pictures release “Paddington 2.”