It’s January, which means that it’s time for another silly action movie starring Liam Neeson. Ever since Taken was first released way back in 2008, Liam has been a regular fixture during the first few months of each new year, either killing terrorists or killing gangsters. Regardless of the film, he’s always a world-weary guy who loves his family and who has a unique set of skills. The specific skills may change from film to film but they all pretty much have to do with killing people.
For instance, in the latest Liam Neeson action film, The Commuter, Liam plays Michael MacCauley. Michael may currently sell life insurance but he used to be a detective with the NYPD. Judging by some of the things that Michael does over the course of this film, being a detective in New York City apparently requires you to have a set of skills that one would normally associate with James Bond or Jason Bourne. However, Michael left all of that behind. Sure, he might still get together with his former partner (Patrick Wilson) for a beer and he still complains about his former captain (Sam Neill). But Michael’s in the insurance game now. As he explains it, he’s nearly 60, he’s got a teenage son getting ready for college, and he has two mortgages to pay off. Michael and his family still haven’t recovered from the recession. Don’t get him started on Goldman Sachs…
It sure is a good thing that Michael has that good job!
Except, of course, he doesn’t. One day, Michael arrives at the office, is given a rather weak severance package, and is told that his services will no longer be needed. Wondering how he’s going to tell his wife and son that their lives are pretty much over, Michael wanders around New York, gets a little drunk, and then eventually boards the train that will take him back home.
Michael is a regular on the train. As is quickly made clear, he knows all of the other regular commuters, like grizzled old Walt (Jonathan Banks) and neurotic Tony (Andy Nyman). He’s also still enough of a cop that he notices people who are riding the train for the first time. For instance, there’s Joanna (Vera Farmiga). Joanna sits down in front of him and strikes up a conversation. She asks him what he would do if she told him that there was a bag full of money in one of the air conditioning vents but that, if he takes the money, he’s agreeing to do something for her. When Joanna gets off at the next stop, Michael checks the vent. The money’s there and now, so is the task. Michael has to find and identify one passenger on the train. If he doesn’t, his family dies…
Even by the standards of a Liam Neeson action film, The Commuter is a deeply silly movie. However, that very silliness is the key to the film’s appeal. After getting off to a strong start with a witty montage of Michael repeatedly waking up and leaving for work day-after-day, The Commuter settles down and it seems as if it’s going to be a typical Liam Neeson action film. However, as the film progresses, things get just more and more bizarre. Suddenly, Michael is getting into brutal fist fights in empty train cars. No one in the movie ever seems to care that, every time they see Michael, he’s a little bit more beaten up than he was the last time. Suddenly, out of nowhere, trains are careening out of control, people are getting shoved in front of buses, and men with snakes tattooed on their neck are giving Michael the side eye. At one point, Michael nearly gets crushed underneath the train and then has to run and leap to get back on. You find yourself wondering how a 60 year-old insurance salesman is managing to do all of this. (The answer, of course, is that he’s Liam Neeson and Liam Neeson can do anything…)
A little over an hour into the film, The Commuter hits an operatic level of silliness, one that will probably never be equaled by any other movie that Liam Neeson ever makes. If you stop too long to think about any of it, the movie will fall apart. To be honest, very little of what Michael does make sense but the conspiracy that’s taking advantage of him makes even less sense. The bad guys are either incredibly stupid or incredibly brilliant, depending on what the story requires from scene to scene.
But no matter! This is the fourth film that director Jaume Collet-Sera has made with Liam Neeson. None of their collaborations make much sense but all of them are entertaining as long as you’re willing to sit back, relax, and don’t overthink the logic of what you’re watching. Much as he did with The Shallows, Collet-Sera makes good use of the film’s limited setting and Neeson is his usual grizzled but charismatic self. The Commuter is about as silly as can be but it’s an undeniably entertaining thrill ride.