Yet another underwhelming Taken knockoff from leading man Liam Neeson.
Hitchcock had Cary Grant, Kirosawa had Mifune and now, in the modern era, Jaume Collet-Serra has Liam Neeson. Together they’ve already collaborated on four films; the previous three being Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night (all of which could comfortably double for Springsteen albums). The Commuter marks their latest outing and it bears all the duo's hallmarks. Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, a regular, everyday insurance salesman with a complicated past and a fractious family situation, who suddenly finds himself thrust into a high octane, run-against-the-clock scenario involving double crosses, mysterious messages and plenty of dead bodies.
This time round he’s on a train, but beyond that it all runs disappointingly close to the far better Non-Stop. Just as it was on that terror-threatened plane, Neeson is again tasked with identifying an important passenger about whom he knows nothing and for which non-compliance will result in the sudden and violent deaths of those around him. There’s an early appearance by a femme fatale (here, the wildly underused Vera Formega), a claustrophobic fight scene and, of course, a comically over the top climax, but whereas Non-Stop managed to keep it fresh, The Commuter just feels tired and increasingly incoherent.
Collet-Serra’s films are often hit with the ‘B Movie’ moniker, and - whether justified or not - they are generally wild rides with less focus on story and more on adrenalin; Hitchcokian pastiches that thoroughly entertain yet temper under scrutiny. His best film by far is also his most reserved. The Shallows, starring Blake Lively, was a deliciously tense, woman-vs-shark thriller that proved 2016’s most enjoyable (and surprising) hit. His collaborations with Neeson have unquestionably borne excellent fruit, however their limitations must also be acknowledged. Neeson is a terrific actor with an extraordinary body of work behind him, yet that same gravitas works against his constant yet rarely plausible turns as the ‘I’m just an everyday Joe’ characters Collet-Serra continues to give him. He’s too intense to pull off folksy charm, whilst workmanlike barroom banter ('another day, another dollar’) sounds ridiculous to the point of parody coming out of his mouth. There’s no denying Neeson's performance in Taken was an action movie fan’s delight, but since then attempts to replicate have largely fallen short, including its own sequels, leaving Neeson an actor without the roles to properly challenge him.
Fast-paced yet dull, complicated yet silly, The Commuter offers fine entertainment for a switched off brain, but little beyond that.