When you buy a ticket for The Commuter, you know exactly what you’re paying for. You’re paying not just for an action movie, but a Liam Neeson action movie. You’re paying for a movie released during one of the slowest months of the year during one of the coldest months of the year. Yes, you’ve probably seen half a dozen iterations of The Commuter before, but with different settings, scenarios, and action sequences. That being said, the B-action movie is a quintessential genre for certain movie goers, and The Commuter easily fits into that niche for that particular audience. Sure, you might forget about The Commuter two months from now, but it’s still a fun time to be had if you’re looking for something new at the theater and something that’s not an awards contender (which is when a number of awards-contending movies start rolling out nationwide).
Insurance salesman Michael is on his daily commute home, which quickly becomes anything but routine. After being contacted by a mysterious stranger, Michael is forced to uncover the identity of a hidden passenger on the train before the last stop. As he works against the clock to solve the puzzle, he realizes a deadly plan is unfolding, and he is unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy that carries life and death stakes for everyone on the train.
As you probably can tell from the above-mentioned synopsis, nothing about The Commuter is groundbreaking, nor does it bring anything new to the table. And within 10 minutes of the movie’s beginning, your guess as to how the movie will play out will probably turn out close to what actually happens by the movie’s end. As you probably could have guessed within seconds of the movies start, you get a prolonged slow start that sets up the predictable coming events. When you hit the 30-minute mark, everything begins to click, and the twists can be seen coming from a mile away. Sure, there are a couple of surprises, but let’s face it. You know how this ride is going to play out because you’ve taken this movie-going route before time and time again. But still, director Jaume Collet-Serra (who made the 2016 underrated B-movie The Shallows) manages to keep things intriguingly fun on this 90-minute thrill ride, where characters maneuver on the train fairly often and tightly-shot action sequences play out with unique (and expected) outcomes. And of course, action star, Liam Neeson (Taken), is there at the center of it all by bringing his ever so pleasing, broodingly quiet action status to the screen.
The majority of people who see The Commuter likely will be there for Liam Neeson, either because they like him for his recent interest in becoming an action star, or they were confused and thought The Commuter is part of some Taken Cinematic Universe (TCU). Either way, Neeson’s by-the-book performance is no different than his roles in other action movies we’ve seen him in before. But it’s still very entertaining to watch the beloved actor whether he is questioning a key character or just kicking ass on screen at 65 years old in another action movie; he also almost makes you forget about the movie’s spotty CGI and its use of a badly-written supporting character who happens to deliver the movie’s few laughs. Oh, let’s also not forget about Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel), Patrick Wilson (Insidious), and Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul). You’ve seen all three of these actors in other projects, both on film and television, and they all do a nice job of playing their marginal parts, while adding another acting credit to their portfolios and picking up their well-deserved paychecks.
As is usually and repeatedly said in movie reviews across the Internet, January is a dumping ground for movie releases. And while that is true to some extent, you could do a lot worse for a January movie release than The Commuter, which is exactly the kind of B-action film you would expect from a premise and star this movie offers. Keeping on track until it literally derails, The Commuter is enjoyable and allows you to sit back and enjoy the ride as its action star does his thing, while you leave your brain at the theater entrance.