Aw come on guys. It’s like you’re not even trying.
Over the years, the talented and pulp-friendly director Jaume Collet-Serra and the one and only Liam Neeson have teamed up for a number of action thrillers with plausibility-stretching plots.
“Unknown.” “Non-Stop.” “Run All Night.” “Death Blow.”
Fine, so that last title is from the Seinfeld Movie Universe and not the Collet-Serra/Neeson Movie Universe — but if and when somebody DOES make a film titled “Death Blow,” almost any plot attached to it is likely to be more believable and less predictable than this tedious and sloppy and downright stupid junk.
Granted, with a title such as “The Commuter” and a setup that has Neeson on a train where bad things are happening and he’s the only one who can put a stop to it, we’re not expecting a docudrama style thriller during which we’ll keep nodding our heads and thinking: Sure. That could happen. It’s supposed to be a diverting, B-movie, grab-the-popcorn and forget-the-post-holiday-blues slice of entertainment. Got it.
But virtually every big twist and every major reveal in “The Commuter” is telegraphed well in advance, and from the moment the train leaves the station and the story really begins to kick into gear, we find ourselves rolling our eyes about every 10 minutes — until the last few scenes, where we have to keep a firm grip on the armrests and tell ourselves to stay put and ride out the ridiculousness of the insanely dumb finale.
How bad is this thing? Even the obligatory (and repeated) hand-to-hand combat sequences are so amateurishly staged it feels like we’re watching a poorly shot training video (“So You Want to Fight Like a Stunt Man?”). And rarely has breakaway glass been so obviously … well, breakaway glass.
The first 10 or 15 minutes of “The Commuter” are actually pretty cool. In “Groundhog Day” fashion, we see the morning routine of Michael McCauley (Neeson), a 60-year-old former cop for the NYPD (gee, wonder if that will come into play?) who for the past 10 years has been selling life insurance in the big city.
Every morning at 6, Michael awakes in his home in Tarrytown, N.Y., to the sounds of all-news New York radio station 1010 Wins, checks to make sure his high school senior son (Dean-Charles Chapman) is up and at ’em, and gets a ride to the train station from his loving wife (Elizabeth McGovern). Once Michael’s on the train to Grand Central Station, he exchanges small talk with the familiar faces he sees every morning and evening. Director Collet-Serra films these sequences with economy and style, letting us to get to know and like Michael and his tight-knit family.
And then one evening, it all unravels. Michael is on his way home after a particularly rough day when a mysterious woman calling herself Joanna (Vera Farmiga) sits across from him and makes him an offer that at first sounds like a hypothetical but quickly grows all too real.
Let’s just say Michael is given the opportunity to make a quick score when he needs cash more than he’s ever needed it in his life, and all he has to do is one little thing — but that one little thing sets off a chain reaction resulting in bloodshed and conspiracy theories and madness on that train, with maybe a dozen passengers possibly involved in the deadly, high-stakes game.
Joanna exits the train early on, but she seems to have eyes and ears everywhere, and she’s constantly in touch with Michael, reminding him of the grave consequences he’ll be facing if he doesn’t follow the plan all the way through. (The details of Joanna’s grand scheme are handed out to us in dollops — and with each new piece of information, one can’t help but think that for a mastermind, Joanna has gone to extremely complicated lengths to carry out a mission that could have been executed in a dozen simpler, more straightforward ways.)
Many ridiculous things happen on the train. Michael gets involved in fights and shootouts, and on occasion finds himself underneath the train or running alongside the train or pushing someone off the train. It’s amazing how many shots are fired and how much brutality takes place before the passengers just a car or two away become aware of Michael’s Very Rough Day.
The train is filled with stereotypes and caricatures, from the wisecracking, would-be womanizer of a young conductor to the nervous nurse to the jerky Wall Street guy to the student with a nose ring and pink hair to the old-timer named Walt contemplating retirement to the suspicious-looking meathead Michael has never seen on the train before. Any one of them could be the mysterious person Michael has been tasked with finding; any one of them could be working with Joanna and looking to kill Michael.
Not a single one of them, nor Michael, nor anyone else, is capable of saving this movie from itself.
Lionsgate presents a film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and written by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle. Rated PG-13 (for some intense action/violence, and language). Running time: 105 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.