Movie review: Liam Neeson — who again finds himself trapped in a confined space, this time a commuter train — rises above absurd material. Rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.
Liam Neeson in a plane (“Non-Stop”).
Liam Neeson in a train (“The Commuter”).
Liam Neeson in a frame … up. (Both).
Movie Review ★½
‘The Commuter,’ with Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neill. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, from a screenplay by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some intense action/violence, and language. Several theaters.
Who says there are no original ideas in Hollywood?
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Show of hands.
Here we go again. Or rather, here he goes again.
Hooking up once more with director Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously put him through strenuous paces in 2014’s “Non-Stop” and before that in “Unknown,” the big guy again finds himself trapped in a confined space — a commuter train from Manhattan this time — running around like a hamster in a wheel as he tries to extricate himself from a nefarious plot orchestrated by an all-seeing, all-knowing woman of mystery (Vera Farmiga) who informs him via cellphone that if he ever wants to see his family alive again he must … Well, it’s complicated.
Very complicated. Even, shall we say, nonsensically complicated. The whole story is nothing more than an elaborate MacGuffin. In the end, it’s not important.
The plot, which finds Neeson playing an insurance salesman, of all things, is just an excuse to present the awesome spectacle of Liam Neeson melting down. That crazed stare. That demonic glare. That way of speaking as he offers justifications for his bizarre actions — demanding to see the contents of his fellow passengers’ bags, feverishly insisting they tell him what station they’re getting off on — that sound to those panicked passengers like the ravings of a paranoid nut.
And then, periodically, “The Commuter” serves up what his fans these days have come to expect: the sight of the big guy beating people up while being beaten in turn. Split that lip. Bloody that nose. Throw someone from the train. You see, before his character went into insurance, he was a cop, so he’s no stranger to rough stuff.
Nowadays Neeson’s career is being fueled by the fumes of “Taken,” the picture that turned him into Hollywood’s favorite geriatric action hero. In “The Commuter,” his character repeatedly lets it be known that he’s 60 and nearing retirement (actually, Neeson is 65). The key to his success, I believe, is that although his movies are increasingly ridiculous Neeson himself somehow never is. His impressive physicality, (a tower among men), his rumbly basso-profundo voice and his impressive demeanor give him a natural gravity that allows him to rise above the most absurd material. And he does exactly that in “The Commuter.”