Published: Sat, January 13, 2018
Entertaiment | By Paul Elliott

"The Commuter" review by Kenneth Turan

Since Unknown (2011), the dog days of the movie calendar - January, February, March - have been the province of Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson, who together have seized this traditionally sleepy time at the multiplex with a batch of high-dexterity, pretension-free, heart-on-sleeve action-flick programmers. It's not long before he bumps into the mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who asks him to do "one little thing".

Trading a plane for a train, its closest cousin is "Non-Stop", and just like that airborne thriller, "The Commuter" is two-thirds of a good movie before derailing amid boneheaded predictability in act three.

Neeson stars as Michael MacCauley. Regardless, Taken on a train isn't the wisest idea because the franchise has been overdone.

The train is filled with stereotypes and caricatures, from the wisecracking, would-be womanizer of a young conductor to the nervous nurse to the jerky Wall Street guy to the student with a nose ring and pink hair to the old-timer named Walt contemplating retirement to the suspicious-looking meathead Michael has never seen on the train before. Faced with an impossible choice, Michael gets to work trying to find a passenger known only by the fake name, "Prynne".

There's nothing special about Michael. The mechanics of how MacCauley must find the target are overcomplicated and increasingly unbelievable (even for a film like this), with Joanna somehow enjoying nearly godlike powers of surveillance, and the 60-year-old MacCauley undergoing a series of physical challenges that would most likely best a man of 40, let alone an ex-cop who's still in reasonably good shape but has been behind a desk for 10 years (Neeson, to his credit, could do this stuff with his eyes closed but commits to his performance throughout). There's no reason on earth for someone to blackmail him so there's got to be a situation playing out behind the scenes.

As he puts off telling Karen the bad news, he meets his former police partner, Alex (Patrick Wilson), at a bar. There's a schlocky Hitchcock vibe to the whole thing with one-take fistfights standing alongside contra-zooms. While the roles may be smaller, everyone is a possible suspect. "You know, it's not superhero stuff, to have a fight on a train". 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. Combined with the efforts of production designer Richard Bridgland, the lighting feels authentic. It's that The Commuter jumps through so many fucking hoops to eventually come full circle, carefully setting up all this shit about the financial crisis when it's clear what it really, really wants is to show Liam Neeson wailing on a dude with an electric guitar (which does happen, by the way, and owns just as much as it sounds).

The Commuter opens in theatres on Friday, Jan 12.

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