I must admit, I do find some enjoyment in these January/February Liam Neeson action-thrillers. They are rarely great but almost always entertaining (to varying degrees). These things started with 2009’s “Taken” which reinvigorated Neeson’s career and made him an unexpected action star. Multiple films have followed (most with the same familiar flavor) and most do pretty well at the box office.
The latest addition is “The Commuter” which sees Neeson playing a 60 year-old ex-cop turned insurance salesman named Michael MacCauley. Each day he takes the same train into the city with many of the same fellow commuters. His daily routine is shattered when out of the blue he is laid off from his job. Now unemployed with a son heading to college and a mortgage due, Michael boards his train for the ride home to break the news to his wife.
As he takes his seat an unusually inquisitive woman played by Vera Farmiga sits opposite of him. Turns out she and the people she works for know a lot about Michael. The mystery lady tells him of $25,000 hidden in the train’s bathroom. If Michael takes the money they will consider him working for them. All he has to do is identify a passenger who goes by the name of Prynne before the train’s final stop. If he does that an additional $75,000 is his. The woman hops off and the train leaves the station.
The financially desperate Michael finds the money in the bathroom but quickly learns the task isn’t as easy or as innocent as it sounds. The people pulling his strings prove to be bad news and they will do anything to get the job done including hurting Michael’s family. From their the film becomes a cross between Michael identifying Prynne while also finding a way out of the mystery group’s clutches.
As the train speeds along the track it’s the story that flirts with derailment. The further it goes the more intense and absurd it becomes. But that’s part of what I like about these things. Plus I enjoy watching Neeson who by now can do this role in his sleep. I also like the always good Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson who pops up playing Michael’s sympathetic friend and ex-partner (sorry, no Ed and Lorraine Warren shared universe stuff). But it’s Neeson who keeps the story rolling which isn’t the easiest of tasks.
“The Commuter” marks Neeson’s fourth collaboration with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra. All four of their ‘race against the clock’ thrillers feature the same basic framework with a few narrative differences. In other words you know what to expect – a fast pace, good action, that Neeson growl, and some amusing corniness. If you don’t like their previous movies this one won’t change your mind. But if you’re like me and get a kick out of these things “The Commuter” will give you what it promises. Nothing more, nothing less.
VERDICT – 3 STARS