When a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) poses a hypothetical question to a commuter (Liam Neeson), he frantically tries to resolve the mystery. The cast includes such talent as Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring), Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad), Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey), and Sam Neill (In the Mouth of Madness). A lesser cast could have made this film unwatchable, but having these actors display their craft in both big and small roles adds something to the less-than-perfect film.
Let’s talk about Liam Neeson. An actor in his sixties who is still so believable as an action star is a rare thing, but he demands you believe him in whatever role he undertakes. In fact, it’s one of those particular sets of skills he has. I love Liam Neeson, and I would watch him in a remake of TROLL 2, if he ever got suckered into doing that. (Suddenly, I kind of want to see that.) He can go from displaying badass maneuvers to emoting a plethora of complicated feelings effortlessly, and he’s just a joy to watch on screen.
While I enjoy films like JOHN WICK where protagonists perfectly take down all enemies with flawless precision and timing, I appreciate films that allow the protagonists to be imperfect. THE COMMUTER’S Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) has weaknesses and bad judgment like the rest of us, and that’s refreshing. Add some exciting scenes scattered amongst the all-star cast’s performances and THE COMMUTER becomes generally worth the time spent. But it’s not a great action film. The premise is completely unbelievable. Completely.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra makes the most of the somewhat jumbled screenplay, but despite his efforts to distract me with a great cast and some fun action, my mind keeps drawing back to the insanity of the premise. Do you remember the scene in AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY where Dr. Evil’s son questions his father’s plan? If not, essentially Dr Evil has devised a scheme to slowly and complexly kill Austin Powers, and the son wonders why they don’t just shoot him. I thought of this several times as I watched THE COMMUTER. In the film, there are apparently powerful people who could make all kinds of things happen, and they want to achieve a specific goal. What could possibly motivate them to go through this particular, super-complicated plan, where so many things could go wrong, when the goal could much more easily be achieved by one simple solution?
If THE COMMUTER had, at its core, a villain who loved games, that just might make it somewhat believable. We buy into the complexity of the scenarios in the SAW movies because Jigsaw gets off on watching people try to make these choices. THE COMMUTER offers no justification as to why these powerful people would set up such an elaborate scenario involving numerous people when the end result could have been achieved with something as simple as a bomb, for example.
It’s not the worst action movie that you’re likely to see, but it’s certainly not the best. If you’re a Liam Neeson fan, why not give it a watch? If you think it’s going to be a mind-blowing action film, you just may want to take a pass on this one.