"The Commuter" Sticks to the Rails

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In "The Commuter," Liam Neeson stars as himself in another absurd, by-the-numbers action-thriller, this time, on wheels.

Every day in the surrounding suburbs of New York City, hundreds of thousands of people yank themselves out of bed at 6am to commute onboard the smelly railway system to their miserable jobs, ran by evil corporate executives, in the city. Liam Neeson is one of these people. In a rather stylish and well-edited opening sequence, we see Neeson's morning routine over the course of multiple days and even months, all edited together into one blended sequence, showcasing his consistency and predictability as a hardworking, middle-class commuter and life-insurance salesman. Everyday, he wakes up to the sound of news radio; he scolds his under-developed son about his English homework; he argues with his under-developed wife over money on the way to the train station, and he boards the train to begin his commute.

We then get a glimpse of what his mundane workday looks like selling insurance in a scene in which Neeson describes his poor financial situation to his clients and to us, the audience. This scene is then followed by him being shit-canned with only 5 years until his pension by his greedy, corporate, tie-wearing boss. Shaken by his firing, he lies to his wife over the phone, then stumbles into a nearby bar, conveniently running into his former police partner (Surprise! Liam Neeson is an ex-cop) played by Patrick Wilson. And finally, now that the movie has the setup portion out of the way, Liam Neeson heads home for the day, and we are back on the train.

Liam is approached on the train by a mysterious woman (the wonderful, shamefully under-utilized Vera Farmiga) who presents Neeson with an opportunity: Find a passenger with a bag on the train that doesn't belong, place a tracking device on their bag, and win $100,000. The mysterious woman then leaves the train (and the movie). Liam, now jobless and financially desperate, is left to make a tough decision. Hijinks ensue, and the movie hits all of the same action beats that you would expect from a movie like this.

The core problem with the film is that we've seen this movie a thousand times before. Director Jaume Collet-Serra relies on the narrative to twist and turn us into caring, instead of bringing an original sense of style or vision to the material. The action set pieces, despite some impressive camerawork, have a tame, PG-13 quality to them with a lack of any grit or threat, the characters are under-developed and downright uninspired, and the film's plot becomes so utterly ridiculous that it's impossible to care. The film also has a political undercurrent that is so frustratingly obvious and ham-fisted that, regardless of one's stance on Wall Street or corporate America, it makes it hard not to cringe.

In a cold January with few options at the theater, you'd be better off sticking it out at home and popping in the the far-superior train-thriller Source Code, a film that gives Vera Farmiga the screen time she deserves.