The latest Liam Neeson On A [insert mode of transport here] With A Phone* And Sometimes A Gun movie arrives courtesy of the same director as the last (2014’s NON-STOP, from Jaume Collet-Serra), and there’s really no closer yardstick by which to measure THE COMMUTER; it’s the same discordant mix of Hitchcockian wrong man thriller jarring with splashes of daft action.
This time Neeson is stuck-in-a-rut life insurance salesman Michael MacCauley, who gets caught in a bizarre and dangerous game of ‘guess who’ after a not-so-simple conversation with a stranger (Vera Farmiga) on his multi-hour commute home (this time it’s a train).
To his credit, Neeson – always a magnetic presence – does his damndest to play down any superhuman ability, keeping MacCauley interesting as long as he can with flaws and mistakes, but he’s fighting a losing battle, and by the time the story expands and explodes into ridiculousness (and predictability), much of his efforts are left unthanked and unrewarded.
Behind the camera too, it feels like this is ‘just a gig’ for many of the crew. There’s little in the design or look of the film, in the fight choreography, and certainly not in the second half of the script that conveys any real passion or artistry.
It's a grim irony that THE COMMUTER's biggest screen share is likely to be iPads providing distraction on long journeys; it’s just good enough to pass the time - not down there with TAKEN 3, but it’s no WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES either. Although that said, it might be genuinely interesting if the next one of these was set on one of those ‘floating city’ cruise liners: plenty of variations in sets, international cast, isolation of the open seas, etc. Fingers crossed for third time lucky...
*Can somebody please run the numbers on how many talking minutes Neeson has racked up on screen across his career? If some mobile provider or other hasn’t offered him a large sum to be the face of their company, their marketing people aren’t doing their jobs properly.
THE COMMUTER is released January 18 in Australia, NZ and the US, and January 19 in the UK.