The fourth - and least satisfying - collaboration between director Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson (after "Unknown", "Non-Stop" and "Run All Night"), "The Commuter" places Neeson's now-familiar AARP-eligible action hero, this time an insurance salesman and ex-cop named Mike MacCauley, on the 6:25 train home from Manhattan to suburban NY.
We had a little chat with Liam at the Irish premiere of The Commuter this evening in Dublin.
We end up on the wrong side of the tracks, but it's a relatively fun ride to get there. Really, he's a veteran ex-cop who hops the commuter train into the city each day to work a thankless job hawking insurance, but he puts on an average Joe face in public, whether to his clients, to his family or to his fellow commuters.
"It's the first time in my movies with him that he's played just a regular guy", Collet-Serra (The Shallows) says with a laugh. (You get the idea that this is how Neeson lives his life, too, pretending he's merely a down-to-earth type and not at all a grizzled badass.) Then one day he's unceremoniously let go by his employer, and after catching a beer with his old pal from the force, he gets on the train home and gets caught in the web of a woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga). McCauley is fired five years short of retirement. It also stars Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, and Sam Neill. Him or her, and I didn't guess the identity of the witness he must identify.
"Is this still a hypothetical?" he asks, understanding that it isn't. Early in The Commuter, there is a tracking shot following the length of the train that occasionally stops to focus on particular passengers so we know who to suspect may be Joanna's target.
Joanna, flirty at first and menacing not long after, challenges him to find an unknown passenger on the train-a stranger on the train, you might say-and slap a Global Positioning System locator on their bag before they pull into the last stop on the line.
It is a fine mystery, and when the person is revealed deep into the story, we are shown the tiny clue we easily may have missed.
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If a movie is the same thing you've seen a thousand times before, does that necessarily make it bad? It may be a few reasons too many, but watching a film like The Commuter creak and latch its stakes into place is half the joy of watching it. MacCauley is a bit more of a milquetoast figure than previous Neesons, anyway, perhaps he needs more prodding before he starts stalking the aisles with bloody fists. (Heck, Joanna all but uses that phrase when telling Michael why he was picked for this task.) The actor breaks no new ground here, but he remains very enjoyable to watch.
Even the daftest, dooziest set pieces here don't have quite the clarity or invention of Collet-Serra's most vigorous action choreography - nor of such superior rail-bound heart-pounders as "Unstoppable" or either version of "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three". At least "Unknown" and "Non-Stop" are better efforts than "The Commuter", but he also was working from better scripts.
We're only 12 days into 2018, which means there's not much to compare Liam Neeson's "The Commuter" to, but we're pretty confident it will go down as one of the most ridiculous movies of the year.
It may not be just the ticket, but, derailment and all, it's a smooth-enough journey.
"The Commuter", a Lionsgate release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "some intense action/violence, and language".
Runtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes.