But that's not to deny the transient pleasures of "The Commuter", a film that enthusiastically puts the humble passenger auto through nearly as many mechanical acrobatics as any "Fast and Furious" hot rod, in the process gifting us with the line, "Between the train and the people, I always knew it would be the train". Yes, you will see Liam Neeson punching more than a few unfortunate souls in the face. However, if you have already seen Non-Stop, Neeson's 2014 collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra in which he races against time to save passengers on a plane, you have pretty much already seen The Commuter, Neeson's 2018 collaboration with Collet-Serra in which he races against time to save passengers on a train. The Commuter - again like Non-Stop, Run All Night, or Serra's most recent effort, The Shallows - only works if there's a propulsive drive to the material, and no other filmmaker working today can balance existential dread and visceral thrills without stopping for breath like Serra. With his family in danger and no way to ask for help without further endangering innocent passengers, Michael has to use his detecting skills to find this mysterious passenger and figure out what makes them so important to some obviously risky people. Desperate times, desperate measures-you know the drill. Fine for viewers around ages 12 or 13 and older.
The payoff is tempting, since Michael's son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman) is about to start school at Syracuse, and the job is a simple fit for a particular set of skills he probably shouldn't have left behind. The chatty traveller poses what Michael thinks is initially a hypothetical question: in exchange for a large amount of cash hidden in a washroom, would he track down a specific passenger on the same train and place a tracking device on the bag.
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The film sees Neeson's character, Michael McCauley, get wrapped up in a risky proposition on his commute from the city to Westchester County when a mysterious stranger offers him $100,000 to identify a certain passenger by the end of the line.
The second Michael touches that money, he's in deep.
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That's all he has to go on, and he soon realizes he has eyes on him watching his every move. One passenger dies as a warning, then another, as Michael frantically searches for the mystery passenger. The Commuter is a film that knows precisely which side of the bread its butter is on, and, as a Neeson-led actioner, it delivers in abundance. The more the movie throws at us, the more that Michael's suspicions become our own and the more delicious Collet-Serra's excesses become. That comes in handy when it's revealed that he's now caught up in a criminal conspiracy - all onboard his daily commute. This isn't to say that the humans in The Commuter act anything like real people; the train is the most realistic performer here, but you could do a lot worse. The cast includes some aces, though, notably Florence Pugh from "Lady Macbeth" and Jonathan Banks from "Better Call Saul".
Check out the latest movie reviews from Michael Phillips and the Chicago Tribune.
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