Liam Neeson has been busy over the last decade portraying a plethora of tough Irishmen each with a very similar set of skills which mostly involve punching people. The Commuter is the latest of these movies to hit the big screen, and the fourth from director Jaume Collet-Serra (who also helmed Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night). As a result, the film will feel instantly familiar to those who have been following Neeson’s various action man personas, but sadly squanders every opportunity it gets to break out from the pack.
Indeed, The Commuter has an implausible but intriguing premise. A mysterious woman approaches ex-police officer Michael MacCauley (Neeson), tasking him with finding an anonymous individual on a packed commuter train. To do so will require a combination of fisticuffs and detective work, with money at stake and lives in danger.
Although the mystery is certainly fun at first, it becomes clear as it plods forward that it simply isn’t interesting enough to support the entire movie. Much of this is due to an apparent lack of effort: towards the end of the film the script seems to simply give up on fully explaining the plot, settling for a vague approximation of what was going on which is immensely unsatisfying.
The cast is similarly wasted. Accomplished actors such as Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks and Sam Neill show up for roughly ten minutes each, but the majority of the film is led by an ensemble of bland newcomers. In fairness to the lesser-known actors, most of the characters are very thinly written but there is the unshakeable feeling that more experienced performers could have elevated the material.
That isn’t to say there is no fun to be had from The Commuter. Collet-Serra delivers a couple of genuinely gripping moments, with one highlight being a scene where Neeson beats the crap out of someone with an electric guitar. The final major action sequence in the movie is also entertaining in how utterly ludicrous it gets, with each second somehow more ridiculous than the last.
Of course, much of this success is down to Neeson himself. At the age of sixty-five his action hero status is getting a tad unbelievable, but he remains a charismatic leading man. Ultimately though, he can’t single-handedly keep this film from feeling like a subpar effort. The premise and the cast are squandered in favour of another generic offering, supporting the theory that if you’ve seen one Liam Neeson action film, you’ve seen them all.