Meet Mike McCauley (Neeson), a ten year train commuter from Tarrytown, N.Y. to Manhattan, but today is gonna be one helluva ride. Aside from being let go from his insurance job that afternoon, the second mortgage being due, and his sons college tuition, this ex-cop (with a particular set of skills) is about to taken for the ride of his life. A mysterious woman named Joanne (Vera Farmiga) engages Mike in a ‘hypothetical’ situation on his long ride home: find someone on-board the train named “Prin”, tag their bag with a GPS tracker, and boom! You get an easy $100K cash. Sounds easy, right? What could possibly go wrong!
Well, if you saw Neeson’s 2014 Non-Stop, you already know the answer to that question. Everyone on the train is suspect and Joanne has eyes on Mike the entire time, keeping tabs on him with random phone calls threatening him with his wife and son’s lives. As Mike desperately searches the train looking for Prin, his former cop instincts take over, clocking the faces he’s seen before with the new ones. But time is running out, the stops are getting shorter, and the body count is starting to add up.
Mike looks around for this ‘Prin’, but who could it be? The obnoxious Wall Street broker? The nurse? The millennial with the nose ring? The guy with the guitar case? The weirdo with the neck snake tattoo? There are fights, mistaken identities, mcguffins by the dozens, and Mike surviving THE most brutal knock-down, drag-out fist fights I’ve seen in a while. And just when it looks hopeless, Mike pulls a Hercule Poirot and does a scene straight out of Murder on the Orient Express… minus that ginormous mustache.
The ending, as you might expect, is chock full of wild shenanigans, crashes, more fights, and the ever-present happy ending. Saying this is a cookie-cutter movie written by the the same cookie-cutter guy (Ryan Engle, along with Byron Willinger & Philip deBlasi–their first screenplay) who wrote the other cookie-cutter movie (Non-Stop), would be obvious. But this movie, unlike its predecessor, is more fun and more exciting. . . plus more unbelievable and more silly as well. Director Jaume Collett-Sera, who loves his fancy camera tricks (bless his heart), whips this movie into a frenzy combining elements of Strangers on a Train, Runaway Train, and even bits of Spartacus, if you can believe that. Just a perfect movie to switch off your brain and dive into that $27 tub of popcorn.
Neeson, as good as he is, is bordering on becoming laughably typecast as the iconic ‘everyman who kicks serious butt’ character. Personally, I’d like to see him do a full-out comedy or anti-hero. His rugged good looks and penchant for ripping another guys arms off can only go so far. The rest of the commuters are your basic stock company of day players, but I’ll give points to the extended cameos of Sam Neill as police Capt. Hawthorne and Patrick Wilson as Mike’s old cop buddy, Alex Murphy (no, not Robocop). A special shout-out to veteran stage & screen actor Jonathan Banks as old Walt, who just gives a perfectly adept performance for the little time he’s on camera.
In a case of movie déjà vu, Liam Neeson is stuck on-board a public transport as a passenger, encounters a mysterious someone with big bucks on the line, and is involved in grave danger with a race against the clock with innocent lives at risk. Oh yeah, that’s The Commuter‘s exact plot as well! Huh… what are the odds?
Federal Air Marshall Bill Marks (Neeson) is going non-stop from NYC to London along with fellow Marshall Jack Hammond (Anson Mount). He sits next to chatty and lovely Jennifer Summers (Julianne Moore) and, after takeoff, Marks begins to receives weird text messages from someone on-board stating that someone will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred to a specified bank account. Marks consults with Jack, who dismisses the threat, but when Marks sees Jack use his phone during a search, he suspects him.
A violent confrontation in the toilet leaves Jack dead, a suitcase of cocaine revealed, and the texter still taunting him! Uh-oh! Things escalate quickly with Marks trying to figure out who the terrorist on the plane is and goes slightly nuts trying to prove it. His “random TSA inspection” yields no results, and everyone looks like a suspect: the bald NYC cop (Cory Stoll), the Muslim doctor (Omar Metwally), a teacher Tom Bowen (Scoot McNairy), or the bankruptcy lawyer Charles Wheeler (Frank Deal). Pretty soon, every 20 minutes someone dies, BUT somehow Marks is responsible.
Worse yet, as time goes on, it’s looking more and more that Marks is the terrorist, not some texter he claims is on the plane. Oh, and did I mention he finds a bomb that somehow gets triggered by Jennifer? Yeah, figure THAT one out! Anyway, the pilot dies, the passengers are scared, the TSA has disavowed Marks, and all the TV’s on-board are saying that he’s a dangerous madman. Finally, Marks comes clean and tells everyone what’s happening and figures out who the bad guy(s) are, which brings about a ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious ending with mid-air shoot-outs, bombs exploding, and little girls almost sucked out gaping holes in planes.
Written by first-time writers John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle, this was all their very first screenplay. Richardson and Roach never wrote another, while Engle wrote The Commuter along with the upcoming Rampage with Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. The director, Jaume Collet-Serra, who directed this, also directed The Commuter and other Liam Neeson flicks (see a pattern here?). So, given those parameters, what can you expect from this film? Not a total trainwreck, but it’s filled with plot-holes and clichés the size of 747’s, that you can’t really enjoy it all the way through. Especially that wacky ending!
Liam Neeson pretty much plays the same character in most of his films from Taken to Batman Begins to Rob Roy, so he’s does his usual scowling and pouty-face here as well. Julianne Moore is great, but I would have like to have seen her as the REAL villain here, that would’ve been cool. The rest of the cast are your stereotypical boring archetypes and the ending is just a joke. Collet-Serra isn’t bad as a director, I’ll give him that, but he has problems in shooting fight scenes and needs to back-off the camera more.