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edge staff writer


'The Commuter' goes off the rails

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It seems crazy that it has only been a decade since Liam Neeson, Pierre Morel and Luc Besson joined forces for “Taken,” the film that turned Neeson into a tough guy star and spawned an entire subgenre. And while many actors of a certain age have taken swings at their own old-guy-action movies, Neeson remains the king.

His latest is “The Commuter,” which puts Neeson’s now-typical “everyman-but-not-REALLY-an-everyman” character into yet another bizarrely contrived situation that only his particular set of skills (one of which, in this case, is riding the same train to work every day) can put right.

Not that names matter, but he’s Michael MacCauley in this one. He’s a life insurance salesman, working hard to give his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern, “Showing Roots”) and off-to-college son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman, “Breathe”) a good life. Conveniently enough, he’s ALSO a retired police officer who still chats regularly with his old partner Murphy (Patrick Wilson, “Insidious: The Last Key”).

One day, out of the blue, Michael gets fired from his sales job. He can’t bring himself to tell his wife right away, so he goes out for a beer with Murphy (at a place called Paddy O’Brady’s or some such nonsense – they might as well have called it “Irish O’Irish”) before getting on the train to head home.

He’s been taking that train for years – so long, in fact, that he has developed passing relationships with some of the other regular commuters. He sees a lot of familiar faces every day. But when Joanna (Vera Farmiga, TV’s “Bates Motel”) sits down across from him, he doesn’t know her. And when she puts forth a vague and intriguing proposition – one that potentially pays handsomely – Michael’s not sure what to do.

Her proposal is simple: Michael needs to locate a certain person who is on the train and scheduled to get off at a certain stop. He needs to then place a tracking device in this person’s bag. For doing this, he will be paid $100,000 - $25,000 of which is waiting for him in one of the lavatories.

In a moment of weakness, Michael goes for the money, but quickly realizes that the circumstances surround this surreal situation are also sinister. As he gets in deeper, he discovers that he can’t get out, that his friends and family are now in danger unless he can complete the task that has been put before him by Joanna and her mysterious employers, who somehow have eyes literally everywhere and display a laughably omniscience – they see EVERYTHING.

And so Michael must make his way through the train, wandering up and down the aisles in search of a stranger. Despite having so very little to go on, he has to solve the mystery quickly; it’s no longer about the money, but about saving his family (because isn’t it always about saving his family in these movies?).

As you might imagine, there are plenty of obstacles in his way – external and internal alike. And so, with his particular set of skills (which again, I can’t stress enough, includes “taking the same train all the time”), Michael must find this stranger … or else try to find another way out before reaching the end of the line.

We can all agree that the premise of “The Commuter” is absurd. Frankly, almost everything about this movie is absurd. But that’s OK – we’re not walking into one of these movies looking for realism. That ship sailed nearly a decade ago. What we’re looking for is Liam Neeson being badass while also looking like his hip hurts. We want him to punch people and fight guys in a manner that is wildly implausible. We want him to solve a ludicrous mystery against invisible foes who might as well be wizards in their ability to track his movements and actions.

And brother – “The Commuter” delivers.

Did you ever think that a commuter train could serve as the primary setting for an action movie? Of course you didn’t! That’s why you’re not director Jaume Collet-Serra, who has developed a real knack for maximizing Nesson’s essential Neeson-ness in ways other filmmakers simply can’t. Seriously – “Unknown,” “Non-Stop,” “Run All Night” and now this one; Collet-Serra understands Neeson’s power better than anyone.

Yes, it’s absurd. The hoops of implausibility through which the narrative has to jump are as plentiful as they are unapologetic. And in the middle of all this nonsense stands Neeson, who is as pointy and low-key grizzled as ever. His gravelly growl permeates the proceedings; he exudes a quiet energy that is equal parts “I’m awesome at this” and “I need another boat.” It’s a perfect fit for this kind of film, which is crazy fun and features some highlights of unintentional hilarity. Oh, and just FYI – the laws of physics appear to be mere suggestions in this film.

“The Commuter” isn’t a good movie. But it’s precisely the sort of elevated B-movie fare that has become a hallmark of the action landscape. It’s enjoyable BECAUSE it isn’t good; it’s happy to tip the audience a wink and make its merry way down the track, ignoring anything that might interfere with the disjointed story it chooses to tell.

Is it “Taken” on a train? Pretty much. And really – what’s wrong with that?

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Saturday, 13 January 2018 10:00


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