The Commuter (2018) REVIEW - A Forgettable January Thriller


"There are a couple of physical altercations", Neeson says coyly, adding the movie's setting presented its challenges.

Granted, with a title such as "The Commuter" and a setup that has Neeson on a train where bad things are happening and he's the only one who can put a stop to it, we're not expecting a docudrama style thriller during which we'll keep nodding our heads and thinking: Sure.

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At its best, "The Commuter" is a B-movie popcorn-munching ode to the forgotten middle class good guy. It's nearly as if it's Taken meets Strangers on the Train.

How bad is this thing? Collet-Serra also delights in tormenting Michael with incongruous visual gags, like a splashy advertisement, posted on the side of a building in Harlem, insisting that "You could be home right now" - a pretty empty guarantee to a man in the thick of a conspiracy that could claim his or his loved one's lives. And rarely has breakaway glass been so obviously ... well, breakaway glass.

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Neeson is Mike MacCauley, an ex-cop, now an insurance salesman and devoted family man - summed up by him reading the same classic novels his teenage son (Dean-Charles Chapman) is assigned at school - riding the same commuter train to and from work every day for the past 10 years.

What's most tiresome about The Commuter isn't actually how derivative and familiar it is. It's not a film that demands to be seen in a theater, and it falls well short of breaking the mold that Neeson and Collet-Serra have established for their movies together by now. It's hard to look at The Commuter (Neeson's fourth collaboration with Jaume Collet-Serra since 2011) and see what sets it apart from... well, almost everything.

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If the film too quickly builds into hysteria - at one point, with Michael fighting for his life, crawling out from under a moving locomotive, and discovering a dead body under the train, it occurred to me that the entire far-fetched enterprise might just be some sort of "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" scenario, triggered because he was so miserable to have to tell his wife about being laid off, but alas, that proved overly optimistic - at least it takes a few minutes to ground its protagonist. Faced with an impossible choice, Michael gets to work trying to find a passenger known only by the fake name, "Prynne". As the story gets more embroiled, it becomes less coherent and amusing, climaxing as it does with a massive train derailment, a hostage situation, and a final bit of flimflammery that's truly just nonsensical. At the age of 60, on a day that begins like any other - a 6 a.m. alarm; a shave; a vehicle ride to the Tarrytown train station on the Metro-North Hudson Valley Line - Michael gets canned ("a good soldier", his boss terms him). It's on the train where Michael makes friends with the regulars on the train, including Walt (Jonathan Banks) and Tony (Andy Nyman). And he manages to get in several knock-down, drag-out fights with others, which barely give anyone else on the train pause. Any one of them could be the mysterious person Michael has been tasked with finding; any one of them could be working with Joanna and looking to kill Michael.