Neeson stars as Michael McCauley, a former NYPD cop turned insurance salesman. Flung jobless into the mad swirl of midday Manhattan, with a spouse on the line inquiring about their kid's college-tuition payments, Michael is shell-shocked - an existential state well-suited to the handsomely aged Neeson's gaunt, somewhat gangly aspect. As luck would have it, like riding a bicycle, those skills - while not quite as special as the ones to which "Taken" fans became accustomed - are quickly put to use as he schleps between cars, simultaneously trying to find the mystery passenger and discover a way out of his predicament.
The Commuter is very similar to Non-Stop from a script perspective - which only makes sense, as Non-Stop cowriter Ryan Engle also co-penned this film, based on an earlier screenplay written by relative unknowns Philip de Blasi and Byron Willinger. Collet-Serra made his name as a skilled schlockmeister with his House of Wax remake and horror/thriller Orphan in the 2000s, before he joined forces with Neeson (in the post-Taken stage of his acting career) for the 2011 mystery/thriller Unknown. Despite ten years of service to his company, MacCauley is laid off and dejectedly hops his commuter train to head home and break the bad news to his wife (Elizabeth McGovern). Intelligent, tantalising layers that will have you asking, "What would I do in Neeson's situation, assuming I was as kick-ass as him?" In an act of particular formal glee, Collet-Serra sends the lens scurrying through the tiny holes that have been punched into the passengers' train tickets. Most of the film's characters - especially the train passengers played by lesser known actors - are the sort of two-dimensional stock types that one expects to find in this sort of pulpy fare. The director has done some interesting work outside their thrillers as well (his Orphan is still one of the more bonkers horror movies of the past decade), so it's disappointing to see him and the always watchable Neeson deliver something so rote.
Collet-Serra is known for infusing his B-grade movies with slick production values, and that remains the case with The Commuter.
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A big, explosive train derailment lights up the screen late in "The Commuter", but this latest action vehicle for Liam Neeson runs off the rails a bit earlier. Working with cinematographer Paul Cameron (Collateral, Dead Man Down), Collet-Serra stylishly maps out the internal layout of the film's central set piece and keeps things visually engaging, in spite of the unchanging foreground scenery.
Lionsgate releases The Commuter on January 12, 2018. "If my male co-star, who has a higher quote than me but believes we are equal, takes a pay cut so that I can match him, that changes my quote in the future and changes my life".
Rated PG-13 for some intense action/violence and language. Even the obligatory (and repeated) hand-to-hand combat sequences are so amateurishly staged it feels like we're watching a poorly shot training video ("So You Want to Fight Like a Stunt Man?").