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.
For starters, it almost seems like a parody of a modern day Neeson movie, which has become a genre unto itself. A nice guy with a past that makes him a badass, though he keeps his particular set of skills under the radar at his more advanced age. But when someone threatens his family, he busts out his dormant combat skills and survival instincts, and unleashes them upon waves of conspirators that make very poor victim selection decisions.
His latest movie —- and his fourth with director Jaume Collet-Serra —- follows exactly that proven formula, with a few ridiculous twists and moments thrown in along the way. Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, a NYPD cop who trades in his badge for a second career as an insurance salesman after the 2008 financial crisis wipes out family's savings. They live in Westchester now, eking out a decent (if boring) middle class existence; their son has elected to go to Syracuse, which is expensive, but they'll figure out a way to make the payments, because they always do, right?
Michael is the titular commuter, obviously, with a long daily train ride to and from the city. He knows everyone on the train, which is one of the reasons why he's the perfect target for manipulation.
Michael is fired out of the blue one day, a casualty of corporate cost cutting. That's the other reason he's so vulnerable to the scam. A mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) offers him $100,000 to find a person on the train and put a tracker on their bag. Needless to say, things are far more complicated than she presents them, and soon enough, all hell breaks loose on the train back upstate.
It makes for a mindless but surprisingly watchable movie, because it's (very) tried and true formula seems honed to flick basic pleasure centers in one's brain -— and again, there are some very ridiculous moments scattered throughout, at just the right time. This isn't to say it's a good movie —- it isn't! “The Commuter” is more a movie you'll see a million times on cable TV on a weekend afternoon, and wind up keeping on because you want to see Neeson beat a guy to within an inch of his life with an electric guitar.
Yes, that really happens in the movie, and yes, it's a lot of fun to watch. It makes just enough sense in the context of the plot to justify, in as much as anything in the movie is justifiable. As mentioned, Michael has to find someone with a shady bag, a task that leads to a lot of misunderstandings and some violent encounters. The Stratocaster showdown happens when he confronts a guy carrying a guitar case; using his observation skills, Michael realizes that guy isn't planning on using it for band practice, and the battle is on.
Some of the most extreme scenes are seen in the trailer, but the fact that 65-year-old Liam Neeson is jumping from train car to train car, and successfully hanging on for dear life underneath them, is worthy of critical emphasis. He is starting to look his age, which sort of makes the movie more believable in a way at first, because it's clear that this guy is rusty. That he gets stronger as the movie goes on, though, is a bit insane. Also insane: the sheer distance that the flying train cars cover in the climatic disaster scenes. It has to defy physics.
“The Commuter” is peppered with ridiculousness, from the same lines being repeated ad nauseum, just in case the theater has a gas leak and audience members are too woozy to pick up on them the first 15 times. Michael says he was fired "after 10 years" once every 10 seconds. And if you still don't get that the financial ruling class doesn't care about anyone else, he at one point says to a stock broker on his train, "Hey, Goldman Sachs, on behalf of the American middle class: f-ck you!"
Subtlety is not a strength here, though that's sure to elicit applause in most theaters where "The Commuter" will sell out.
New Yorkers, who will either cheer that line or shift uncomfortably, will have a rich pointing out all the ridiculous mistakes that this film makes in its depiction of mass transit. It's clear that no one involved has ridden an MTA train in a very long time. The commuter train leaves from Grand Central, which is accurate, but for some reason, it stops at subway stations as it makes its way through Manhattan. No Metro-North train stops at 86th street —- the tunnels can barely handle the trains they have now.
It's also remarkable that there are no delays on the train —- that may be the most unbelievable aspect of them all.