Yes, you will see Liam Neeson punching more than a few unfortunate souls in the face. But, if we were to place the tale at all in reality, we'd have no choice but to compare the insurance salesman's ride to that of an average city commuter.
As it turns out, Joanna's proposal is not merely hypothetical, as Mike receives, in short order, a $25,000 down payment waiting for him in the restroom, and then a message from a street urchin who appears in the train's doorway at the next station, asking him, on behalf of Farmiga's vanishing lady, if he has accepted the assignment. Michael soon discovers that the woman's proposal is more than hypothetical, and that he's in well over his head. You can dismiss these as implausible, overheated and daffy, but the person sitting next to you probably enjoyed them, to varying degrees, for those same qualities.
Does it sound naïve to say that I didn't realize The Commuter would be so intensely about trains? But he knows well how to shoot Neeson, following the actor's hulking frame from vehicle to auto. In Non-Stop, Neeson's character is chosen by the mystery hijacker to be set-up to look like the real culprit if anything goes against his plan. That is, naturally, when things get complicated. It has some great action scenes and an ending plot twist that while I predicted, still left me satisfied. The bulk of The Commuter finds Michael nervously playing the role of a detective instead of making him an outright badass. An ambassador for Unicef, Neeson said he thinks that the "world needs" Michael D Higgins. It makes various subway stops through Manhattan, when every commuter since the time of "Revolutionary Road" knows it runs straight to Harlem.
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Serra also delights in bringing subtext out from his material. Despite a clichéd and overexposed narrative that weighs it down, the film delivers precisely what fans of the newfangled, action star expect and ends up being a fun time at the movies. I also doubt that there has been a modern filmmaker more enamoured by creating a sense of paranoia via people texting and talking on cell phones than Serra.
The skeletal, B-movie plotting is supposed to be self-propelling, but "The Commuter" is too ridiculous to get by on its own momentum. Though, amusing enough, watching Collet-Serra and Neeson lean back on what works for them works for us.
And yes, the material is quite silly, overstuffed, and admittedly predictable. On his way home on a particularly bad day, he meets Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who offers him $100,000 if he will find a passenger who doesn't belong on the train and plant a Global Positioning System tracker on the person's bag. But The Commuter is more about the journey than the destination. The latter would be more effective if we gave a rip about the former. "The Commuter" might provide a couple of warm, Neeson-filled hours away from the January cold, but like your favorite go-to fast food, you know it's a temporary fix at best.