The script has the potential to be so much more, such as a Hitchcockian thriller on the train, but it only turns into a missed opportunity.
Like many a Collet-Serra protagonist, Michael endures much punishment throughout The Commuter - some of it, as with one close-quarters battle involving a guitar, presented in spectacular extended-take fashion. Regardless, Taken on a train isn't the wisest idea because the franchise has been overdone. He's the typical New Yorker with the routine commute from his home outside of New York City to the office in midtown Manhattan, where he works as an insurance salesman. His son (Dean-Charles Chapman) is about to go off to college, but the family is struggling financially following the 2008 crash. It's on the train where Michael makes friends with the regulars on the train, including Walt (Jonathan Banks) and Tony (Andy Nyman). Just another day on the Hudson north. He has just committed to the job: finding a passenger and placing a Global Positioning System device on him or her that will allow Joanna's associates to track the mark.
Joanna exits the train early on, but she seems to have eyes and ears everywhere, and she's constantly in touch with Michael, reminding him of the grave consequences he'll be facing if he doesn't follow the plan all the way through.
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There's nothing special about Michael. In The Commuter, the newest of the lot, Neeson faces a danger even that vaunted "particular set of skills" might not be enough to overcome: an America in economic panic.
As he puts off telling Karen the bad news, he meets his former police partner, Alex (Patrick Wilson), at a bar. Most of the film's characters - especially the train passengers played by lesser known actors - are the sort of two-dimensional stock types that one expects to find in this sort of pulpy fare. While the roles may be smaller, everyone is a possible suspect. Although the plot drags itself down, Collet-Serra largely keeps the pace of the film up, but his attempts at making the material visually interesting-a long extended shot down the entire length of the train, an extended, seemingly one-take fight sequence-only end up showing the seams where CG is being employed in what should nominally be a gritty and non-enhanced narrative. Combined with the efforts of production designer Richard Bridgland, the lighting feels authentic. The Commuter is the fourth collaboration between star Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra, following the success of Unknown (2011), Non-Stop (2014), and Run All Night (2015), and The Commuter largely follows the formula of those three previous thrillers by placing Neeson as an everyman-albeit one with both some extra talents and personal baggage-in an extraordinary situation that he must solve and/or best to a) clear his own name, b) save others' lives and c) transcend/redeem his personal foibles.
The Commuter is out in theaters on Friday, Jan. 12.