The Commuter: Next Stop, Decent-Ville

The Commuter Plot Summary:

A commuter (Liam Neeson) who rides the train every day is desperate for cash and presented with a strange offer by a passenger (Vera Farmiga), but gets embroiled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse where his family is put at risk.

The Commuter sounds like a 90’s action film with Harrison Ford.  The tagline should be “The Next Stop Could Be Your Last.”  It has that feel.  While films of this ilk can certainly be awesome, it’s a mixed bag here.

While we don’t get Harrison Ford, we do get everyone’s favorite 60+ year old action star: Liam Neeson. This is also the same director (Jaume Collet-Serra) who gave us Non-Stop, where Liam Neeson fights a bunch of dudes on a plane. Here it’s on a train. I can’t wait for their next collaboration: Death Ferry. While there’s a lot of sloppy storytelling here, I give the director credit for adding some semblance of style to a script that is completely banal and cluttered with exposition.

The opening sequence actually plays like a nice short film. The editing is a little weird, but it’s a simple tale of your everyday working stiff getting up to go to work set to some nice music. If you’ve ever taken the same commute to work for at least a year, the director does a good job of emulating that feeling. After that, the film takes a bad turn.

This is the most cliché set up in the history of cinema. Liam Neeson has to pay for his son’s college. The family is just making ends meet. Something bad happens at work. Now he’s desperate for cash. The end. Not only do we get a run-of-the-mill premise, but it’s combined with dialogue that is so on the nose, you’re going to need tissues to blow it out. To Collet-Serra’s credit, he gets through the garbage efficiently so we can get to the real meat of the film.

So after a real crappy day, Liam Neeson sits down on the train, and out of nowhere, like a wizard apparating out of thin air, comes Vera Farmiga with the most random, sketchy proposal of all time. Liam Neeson must locate a mystery passenger, tag their bag, and then he’ll get a bunch of cash. From this point on, your interest drifts in and out.

As Neeson gets deeper in, he puts himself, the passengers and his family in more danger. This is where the script gets bad. We find out this simple task is connected to all sorts of crazy cover-ups and shenanigans. It’s told really poorly and you barely care. While the actual plot is horrendous, Liam Neeson, as always, makes you care about the character. You want to make sure this guy and his family will be okay.

While Neeson is good, this wasn’t one of his better performances. You could say he has a decent amount of skills here. Yes. I went there. He’s also not very bright when compared to the rolodex of other bad ass characters he’s played in the past.

The best performance is Vera Farmiga, the mastermind behind all this. She gets very little screen time, but it’s her ominous role that is truly sinister. This is an actress who should really be in more movies. She’s a great villain.

The side characters also work well. Throughout Neeson’s search, we get to know a lot of the passengers, and they all have mini subplots going on. The film does a good job of peppering these in throughout the movie. Some of the better performances include Jonathan Banks, a stockbroker (Shazad Latif), nurse (Clara Lago) and a rebellious student (Florence Pugh). Although, there is one stupid resolution at the end between two of the characters that makes no sense, and is only there for a bad joke.

What irritated me more than anything is that I couldn’t decide if I liked the action or not. While the director does a commendable job, he succumbs to the dreaded shaky cam (shudder). Even when it’s two people talking at a bar, he feels the need to shake the damn camera. Why is this necessary? It’s a conversation! He does the same with the fight scenes. At times they are poorly edited, however due to the close quarters of being on a train, you can really feel those harsh punches. There’s also a bad ass sequence where the train derails.

What truly derails the film though is the end. After the last big action scene, the movie goes on for another twenty minutes and is drawn out beyond belief. We know what the big shocker is going to be, but it takes forever to get there. It’s also buried under a mound of exposition. So much talking. It’s a crawl to the finish line with this movie.

If you really crave these Liam Neeson action offerings, you’ll get what you came for.  While The Commuter kept me engaged on and off, this falls in between the Taken 2 & 3’s of the world.

Rating: 6 out of 10 (“Meh”)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.