Liam Neeson’s transportation troubles continue in The Commuter, ironically one of his more pedestrian action efforts.
This time Neeson’s misshapen nose for danger leads him onto a train, after Non-Stop air travel, Run(ning) All Night and automobiles (Taken 1, 2 or 3) nearly killed him. Well, not Neeson but his characters, each a variation on the family man with a particular set of deadly skills to protect them.
The commuter in question is Michael MacCauley, an insurance agent taking a train to work in Manhattan for 10 years. Michael has a loving wife (Elizabeth McGovern), a son heading to Syracuse, two mortgages and a few more personal details hammered out in clunky "casual" conversations. One reveals Michael used to be an NYPD officer. That’ll come in handy.
Michael has a bad day at work, getting laid off, and a worse train trip home, starting with a femme fatale (Vera Farmiga) making an offer: Michael will get $100,000 if he’ll identify a stranger on the train, someone who doesn’t belong there. Oh, and his family will be killed if he doesn’t do the job.
Michael begins stalking the aisles of passenger cars like a guy catching up on his FitBit numbers. After 10 years, other regular riders are kill-time acquaintances then suspects and/or corpses. Unfamiliar faces are likely to get punched.
The Commuter dives into an overly complex sort-of mystery about who’s the person Michael seeks and why someone just as mysterious wants him/her dead. It’s just a lowbrow Murder on (and off) the Orient Express. Nothing really spoilable since the villain is easy to spot by thriller standards and few clues matter until the "surprise" reveal.
We’re just here for the action, which takes a while. Director Jaume Collet-Serra, who often makes Neeson’s movie travel arrangements, is again better at brawny than brainy filmmaking. Michael’s escapades outside and underneath the train offer dumb thrills. The inevitable derailment — of the train, not his movie — is a model of ludicrous action. It takes too long for The Commuter to build a head of steam but it’s medium speed ahead after that.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.