The Commuter proceeds much in the vein of Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson's earlier Non-Stop (2014), itself a race-against-time thriller of moral import set predominantly aboard a mass-transit vehicle (an airplane) hurtling through space. Again, Neeson's weathered hero carries out his covert, life-or-death task amid an audience of initially unsuspecting everymen and -women, whom Collet-Serra sketches with Cliffs Notes efficiency: a pink-haired college student (Florence Pugh) bickering with her boyfriend; an old-timer (Jonathan Banks, last seen in Mudbound) who chats fondly about the Yanks and the Sox; a preening, Bluetooth-connected power broker (Roland Moller) with a stint at Goldman Sachs on his resume. (When Neeson's Michael learns of this backstory, he promptly curses the man out and gives him the finger, which is kind of Collet-Serra in a charming nutshell, quickly embellishing his gamely silly scenario with tossed-off wisdom from the 99 percent.) And as in Non-Stop, the camera (the cinematographer here is Paul Cameron) defies the laws of physics, swimming seamlessly from car to car with little regard for dumb things like walls or doors or floorboards; at times, it sweeps the interiors with such vigor it might be dusting for prints.
The screenplay (credited to Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle) is engaging but at times convoluted in its logistics, especially after the crystalline simplicity of Collet-Serra's shark-versus-girl number The Shallows (2016). But, as ever, the director's stylistic obsessions (harried close-ups of cell-service signal bars) and thematic integrity (witness the overworked 9-to-5 crowd banding together in solidarity) elevate the cheap paperback plot without tipping the movie over into pomposity.