Ever since Taken (2008), we’ve been stuck with one or two Liam Neeson actioners a year for the past decade. Besides A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014), none of them has been particularly good, and most of them form a sort of mental morass in my brain. I can’t really pick any of them out besides vague memories of their different levels of gruffness and violence.
The latest of the bunch, The Commuter, is actually the fourth collaboration between Jaume Collet-Serra and Neeson, and while I’ve somehow managed to see all of them over my years of reviewing, I can’t really remember much about them besides that they carry a bit more dignity than the Taken films. That, I think, tells you all you need to know about The Commuter, a movie that is professional enough without ever really doing anything outstanding. It’s watchable and won’t make you check your watch too much, but it’s already evaporating from my memory. I suppose there are worse characteristics to find in a January release, which — for mainstream releases — generally means the studio’s dregs. That one can sit through The Commuter without emitting one long, audible groan for the entire runtime is a small victory in itself. But there’s nothing really inspired about the movie, nothing too exciting, a problem for a movie that purports itself as a thriller.
The premise, at least generally, feels a lot like Collet-Serra and Neeson’s Non-Stop (2014), namely in the concept that a man (Neeson, of course) has been put into an extraordinary situation in a confined space, forcing him to handle it, with no chance of escape. In the case of The Commuter, Non-Stop‘s airplane has been replaced with a commuter train, with Neeson being approached by a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) and blackmailed into figuring out the identity of a woman for her. It’s supposed to be Hitchcockian, I suppose, but the movie gradually ratchets up the action, becoming more and more absurd as the film unwinds.
I’m not really opposed to the absurdity of The Commuter, mainly because that’s really all it has going for it. The mystery at the center of the film is flimsy, as are all the characters. Neeson’s Michael MacCauley is just some guy on a train for the most part and another in a long line of films that think Neeson’s presence can replace actually writing him a character. It’s the type of movie that requires you not to think about it too hard or examine its plot too much because that’s when things begin to fall apart.
It’s a pity, then, that the film doesn’t lean into its far-fetched nature more. There’s this sense in every Neeson film that he demands some sort of weighty respect as an on-screen personality. He’s physically large and imposing and has a deep voice, so he must be taken seriously. Unfortunately, it always seems to suck the fun out of all of these dumb movies he stars in. If they’d just embrace their stupidity, maybe the end result would be actually fun and entertaining. Instead, we get passable, which is as much as one can expect from The Commuter. Rated PG-13 for some intense action/violence, and language. Now playing at AMC Classic River Hills, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.