There is now a certain level of expectation I have going into a Liam Neeson thriller, especially the ones directed by Jaume Collet-Serra who has really helped propel Neeson into the action star that Taken promised us he could be. Serra directed Neeson in the films Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night and now The Commuter. Nearly each one of these movies is competent enough to be viewed and enjoyed while never living up to the initial set up and premise. In Unknown, the premise was about someone else claiming to be Neeson, and in Non-Stop it was someone demanding money or a passenger on a plane would die every 20 minutes. With the Commuter we have Liam Neeson being told he has to find a person on a train or else something terrible will happen.
All of these films have the hook to draw you in and The Commuter is no different. The trailer was intriguing and the movie was too. However, by now we’re starting to get wise to Serra’s tricks and the plot surrounding The Commuter only works if you’re willing to suspend disbelief. Which by now, is a fair expectation. The problem with The Commuter is the twists are too easy to predict, the reveals don’t make a lot of logical sense, and the movie jumps the shark in a major way going into the third act.
Setting up the major sequences of events, director Serra and the screenwriters (there are three credited Ryan Engle, Philip de Blasi, and Byron Willinger) do a fine job. There is plenty of potential red herrings and suspects, there are passengers established and Neeson’s character (here named Michael) current financial situation is also established (which is crucial for his character motivation). A woman named Joanne (played by the very talented actress Vera Farmiga) approaches Michael on the train and tells him he will get 100,000 dollars if he is willing to find a person on the train that goes by the name Prim.
There isn’t much for Michael to go on as he kept in the dark over what this is request is about (much like the audience) and proceeds to go up and down the train trying to find Prim. He has to follow the rules though, warns Joanne as people close to him will die horrible deaths and, “there are ears everywhere.”. Who Joanne works for never really becomes clear, and whatever the organization is, is carrying themselves with Illumiti precision.
Serra has clearly shown himself to be a fan of Alfred Hitchcock with some clear nods to Vertigo sprinkled in here. Serra is talented at creating mystery and some level of paranoia in his production. Serra has talent but he unfortunately never seems to have the scripts to back it up. As The Commuter continues the story never seems to go anywhere. We are continually stuck on the same question of who is Prim? This wouldn’t be an issue if there were more layers given to the mystery or more information provided. For a while, the movie feels stuck in second gear when it should start kicking into third.
Once we finally start to reach the third act of The Commuter, the movie really starts to fall apart (I resisted the urge to make a train pun here). There is an almost literal jump the shark moment, with painfully bad CGI. The twists also felt underwhelming and very easy to predict. With a movie like this, I do go in with some of my brain turned off because the plot requires that in order for the story to be able to function. I’m willing to indulge that mindset up to a certain point but The Commuter really breaks the limits of one’s suspension of disbelief in several scenes. This is when The Commuter starts to become pretty stupid. This only compounded by its nonsensical story. The unfortunate part is The Commuter doesn’t embrace its ridiculousness and go completely nonsensical and over the top. This wants to be Hitchcock but it isn’t good enough to be Hitchcock but it also isn’t crazy enough to be a simple crazy action flick. The Commuter would have been a far better movie if it was able to execute one or the other.
Clearly, there is an audience for Liam Neeson old man action flicks. There has been a market for that since Taken first premiered nearly 10 years ago. If you’re looking for a solid time waster in the theater or a quick afternoon flick, The Commuter might be enough to satisfy you. It isn’t too long, there are a couple of decent fight scenes and it does have an interesting setup. The Commuter isn’t the worst January Liam Neeson action film (that title still goes to Taken 3) but it isn’t memorable either. It jumps the shark in the worst possible way and the plot reveals are either a) underwhelming or b) make no sense whatsoever. It isn’t a good movie but it is more entertaining than it probably should be. This would probably be a decent cable watch but it fails to live up to the promise of its intriguing premise. If you’ve enjoyed movies like Non-Stop you’ll probably like this as well, just don’t expect too much out of it.