Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Commuter

Title: The Commuter

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:

RALPH: It's says 'choo-choo-choose me,' and there's a picture of a train!
LISA: Yeah, nice gag.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Unemployed spawn of immigrants terrorizes hard-working Americans.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2.5 Blizzard of Ozz albums out of 5.

Tagline: "Lives are on the line."

Better Tagline: "Mind the [income] gap."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Former cop Mike MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is a life insurance salesman, or rather was. After 10 years on the job, and in spite of a double mortgage and a kid about to start Syracuse, he’s just been unceremoniously shown the door. After enjoying a commiseration drink with his former partner (Patrick Wilson) while deciding how to tell wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern), he boards his commuter train for what one hopes would be an uneventful trip home. But when it rains it pours, and a mysterious woman on the train named Joanna (Vera Farmiga) makes Mike an offer that will earn him some decent cash ($100,000). All he has to do is identify a certain passenger. What could possibly go wrong? For starters, they could kill his wife and kid...

"Critical" Analysis: The Commuter is, fascinatingly, director Jaume Collet-Serra's fourth collaboration with Liam Neeson (the others being Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night). It's like the professional relationship between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, only without historical subject matter or narrative logic. The plot is reminiscent of Non-Stop (in the sense that "Born This Way" is reminiscent of "Express Yourself"): the mass transportation setting has changed from aeroplane to locomotive conveyance, but both feature a down-on-his-luck former cop assigned a seemingly impossible (and time-sensitive) task who eventually comes to win over his initially suspicious former passengers amidst a series of slick camera moves.

Given the number of times the two have worked together, and how many variations of ‘man thrust into circumstances out of his control’ Neeson has played, this should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, that’s a more literal description of the finished product than Collet-Serra probably wanted, and he’ll have to hope the frantic pacing and literal going off the rails distracts from how dumb huge swaths of this film are.

Both of the film’s biggest problems are related to the mystery passenger, dubbed “Prynne” by Joanna. MacCauley’s success or failure in finding this person hinges on him using both his slick-talking insurance skills and his old investigative techniques to suss out their identity. That reveal comes when MacCauley’s exhaustive process of elimination comes down to one person.

On the other hand, he could’ve just picked the one passenger who happened to be reading The Scarlet Letter the whole time.

[The movie’s Groundhog Day-esque intro shows MacCauley reading classic works of literature in solidarity with his college-bound son. Maybe he wasn’t that great a cop after all, or maybe Hawthorne was on the school's banned books list.]

This person, we’ve already learned, is a potential witness to murder and the FBI is interested (they’ve got some time to kill before frog-marching our President). How interested, you ask? So much so that they tell said witness to board to Hudson Line alone and ride it almost all the way to Poughkeepsie with no protection other than one cranky undercover agent who doesn’t get on board with her and isn’t even on the same car.

One of the few areas in which The Commuter doesn't disappoint is its treatment of MacCauley as an age-appropriate action hero. To wit: he may be an ex-cop, but he gets the ever living shit kicked out of him on multiple occasions. It ends up a net positive in spite of some truly horrendous CGI.

There’s some timely-yet-clumsy political commentary (MacCauley curses out a fat cat broker in the movie's sole PG-13 sanctioned f-bomb), which might be compelling if it was delivered by a guy who didn’t make $20 million for Taken 3. Collet-Serra's budget Fincher-style direction is intermittently intriguing, and Neeson is still charismatic as hell, but all that can’t keep The Commuter on track.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar