For their fourth collaboration together, Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra deliver what could charitably be called a schlocky mystery-thriller. Less charitably, it’s a half-arsed remix of the duo’s previous film, Non-Stop, aka Source Code for dummies, and while that description may tickle the fancy of B-movie lovers, don’t be fooled.
Neeson plays an insurance salesman recently made redundant, who also happens to be an ex-cop (but of course). On his train ride home to the suburbs of upstate New York, he is approached by a shadowy stranger (Vera Farmiga) who gives him a mystery to solve in exchange for a hefty amount of cash: “Who doesn’t belong?” As he attempts to uncover the identity of a hidden passenger amongst the smorgasbord of the usual one-dimensional suspects (including a sleazy businessman, a goth teen, a shady tattooed guy) before the train reaches its last stop, he begins to realise that he’s a puppet in a larger conspiracy… Oh, and his family might be killed if he doesn’t succeed or something.
While Non-Stop was daft but entertaining, The Commuter simply isn’t fun enough to overcome its abundant shortcomings. It tries to take the Hitchcockian premise of Strangers on a Train and morph it into a race-against-the-clock thriller, but utterly squanders a good single-location set-up and is bafflingly barren when it comes to the thrills and nifty twists you’d expect from the premise. To his credit, Neeson rolls out his aging action star routine once more and, at the tender age of 65, his late career renaissance continues to deliver the goods. However, the inability to tease out any suspense, the short-changed cast (which includes Patrick Wilson and Sam Neill showing up for an easy payday) and the convoluted attempt to wring out a heartfelt morale about how money isn’t everything from the crashed carcass of the carriage is just plain pathetic.
The Commuter | Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (USA, 2018), with Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill. Starts January 11.
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