Poor Liam Neeson — that’s Neesons to you and me. Try as he might, every action film he’s in these days feels like a broken record. Truth be told, we can blame Christopher Nolan after casting him as Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins, because it was only three years later that the first Taken ushered in the last decade of Action Neesons we know today. Considering The Commuter is Neesons’s fourth collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra — after Run All Night, Non-Stop, and Unknown — it should come as no surprise if things feel overly familiar and plays out like a greatest hits album.
Michael MacCauley (Neeson) leads a typical, boring life. He loves his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) and son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman) and commutes to work as an insurance salesman. Until the day he’s laid off, boards the train, and gets swept up into a conspiracy thanks to a not-so-chance encounter with the mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga). Now, Michael has to decide if his ex-cop instincts can solve the game he’s set into motion trying to discover who on board is “Prinn” amongst a trainful of suspects.
Back in the ’90s, The Commuter would have been a surefire hit. Having waded our way through these waters before, now it just seems sillier than ever. Collet-Serra keeps the film chugging along, but takes things way too seriously as the screenplay — from Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, and Ryan Engle — ramps up the ridiculousness. Neesons performs as well as always, even if Collet-Serra seems to be losing his grip in the finale.
It doesn’t help that you can guess who one of the big baddies is from a mile away and how things are going to play out beat for beat as it comes to a close. The Commuter features one of the funniest homages to Spartacus ever put on film. The Commuter isn’t quite bottom of the barrel — it’s way too dumb to not have at least a little bit of fun — but it’s also far from good. The most unintentionally hilarious moments are “spoilers” so I’ll leave them to be discovered by interested parties. Those who want to board will find it a good enough time waster, but those expecting The Commuter to be something more akin to The Grey better keep their expectations in check.