THE COMMUTER: Still Going Strong

May 31, 2018

  “The Commuter” is preposterous -- but don’t let that stop you from enjoying it.

  It certainly didn’t stop me.

  I’ll admit I can be a stickler for accuracy in movies about trains. But if Liam Neeson is on board, I’ll take the ride -- even if it’s bumpy.

  Yes, it’s another entry in the ongoing series of thrillers that followed Neeson’s rebirth as an action star in 2008’s “Taken” -- at the unlikely age of 56.

  Here he plays Michael MacCauley, a Manhattan insurance worker who is mysteriously offered $100,000 to find and identify a fellow-passenger on the train he’s taking home from the city. Unusually vulnerable due to having lost his job that day, MacCauley accepts a down payment and quickly finds himself entangled in a mess that will eventually endanger every soul on board.

  Looking even briefly at the bad guys’ scheme, we must conclude that literally no one would choose to achieve their goal in this fashion -- unless of course they wished to provide fodder for an action-movie script.

  So the very foundation of the story has a huge crack in it; and the structure that’s built on top of this is none too sturdy either.

  In particular, at least four or five of the rail-related events simply could not happen in real life. On top of that, there are two bashingly brutal fights -- with several weapons much harder than fists -- from which MacCauley emerges all but unscathed. And of course the villains have an almost supernatural ability to accomplish anything they please -- like invading a total stranger’s cell phone, rigging explosives in a crowded train station or ordering the proxy murder of a bystander only moments after he got unwittingly involved.

  It goes without saying that if they really could achieve all this, they scarcely needed to enlist a civilian like Mike.

  Yet the movie works.

  Neeson’s irresistible blend of toughness and vulnerability has always made it easy for movie-goers to invest in whatever cockamamie chaos he wanders into. The dialog is sharp, the music energetic, the pace just fast enough to keep us from thinking too much about logic; and the editing and photography are both top-notch. One early shot backs down the entire length of the train, moving swiftly through doors and windows from car to car to car; that moment is almost worth the price of admission all by itself. Hitchcock would have loved it.

  Though the final scene slightly overstays its welcome -- and the coda is too tidy -- the inevitable train crash is beautifully staged, especially the extended sequence involving a single rail car.

  Neeson may be nine years older than he was in “Taken,” but he still has the cojones to carry an unlikely tale like this right to the end of the line.

  We should all be this cool at age 65.

 

“The Commuter,”

directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Run time: 104 min.

* * * (out of four)

Rated PG-13 for some intense action/violence, and language

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