Liam Neeson Gets TAKEN On A Train In THE COMMUTER

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THE COMMUTER arrives in theaters on Jan. 12, 2018.

I know a lot of people who find comfort in repetition. They drive to work the same way every morning. They eat the same thing for breakfast or lunch, or both. They go out for dinner and order the same thing at the same restaurant. Some people need that reliable stability in their lives. That is absolutely fine, I make no judgment here. For others, that’s a torturous existence. That’s like waking up every morning to Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe,” going to work, getting soaked by a truck driving through a puddle along the curb, and thinking, “Really? Again? I swear this happens every time…” That’s how I’m beginning to feel myself. Repetition, déjà vu—but not quite a true “Groundhog Day” experience when I go to the movies to watch anew Liam Neeson action flick. There are some slight deviations from film to film. The Commuter, opening everywhere on January 12, 2018, is one such deviation, but by and large it’s exactly what you might suspect it is. Say it with me now, everybody…

I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom I can tell you I don't have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills….”

That’s enough. You know where this going. Taken.  2008’s surprise hit, a fairly unheralded little gem (at the time) where Liam Neeson played a former CIA operative who’s daughter gets “taken” by Albanian sex traffickers and he goes on a one man rampage to rescue her. Plausible? Not particularly. Exciting? Hell yes! Neeson’s voice gave him cool menace, and everyone can sympathize with a father whose daughter has been kidnapped, so even though he kills dozens of bad guys as violently as possible, you cheer him on anyway. The movie was so popular that even Seth MacFarlane has done the now legendary “A Particular Set of Skills” speech as Kermit the Frog (YouTube it later).  So what’s different about The Commuter?

It’s on a train. And that brings us full circle. Mr. Neeson is in a “Groundhog Day” cycle. This is the fourth film he’s appeared in that was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. The first one, 2011’s Unknown was an interesting if a little over-the-top thriller where Neeson’s character suffers amnesia after a car accident and has to piece his life back together while simultaneously foiling a plot to assassinate someone that he may or may not have been involved with in the first place. 2014 brought Non-Stop, where Neeson’s alcoholic air marshal character has to figure out how to stop an unknown terrorist from killing a planeload of people flying from NYC to London.  In 2015 Neeson’s back with Collet-Serra as an Irish mobster who refuses to let his idiot son die in a conflict with Albanian heroin traffickers. A Spaniard himself, Collet-Serra doesn’t seem to keen on Albanians, but I digress. We’ve had planes and automobiles in these films, so clearly we needed Neeson in a train-based Collet-Serra mystery-thriller. Too bad Kenneth Branaugh didn’t tap Neeson for his Murder on the Orient Express remake last year; he might have made a good Samuel Ratchett or Gerhard Hardman.

Liam Neeson plays Michael McCauley, a down-on-his-luck ex-cop with a mountain of debt and a fraying marriage. He’s a creature of habit himself, riding the commuter train back and forth to work and chatting with other regular commuters. Suddenly a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) sits down next to him and makes an unusual offer: $25 grand now and $75 grand later if he does one small task of know personal consequence. He is to find a person on the train carrying a bag and tag the bag with a GPS transmitter. That’s it. He’s got until the end of the line to do it. She gets off at the next stop without any real commitment from Mike. Mike finds the $25 grand right where she said it would be and “takes it,” which is to say he puts it on his person and walks out of the bathroom with it. The woman has eyes everywhere, and takes this development as confirmation that Mike will do as she says. He soon discovers that if he tags this person’s bag as directed, the woman or one of her operatives will kill the person he tags. His inner cop comes out and he sets off to find the person not to carry out his orders, but to save them.

Does he? I won’t say, but honestly it wouldn’t be much of a spoiler if I did, I wouldn’t think. After all, ex-cops still have, join in if you know the words, “a particular set of skills.” Perhaps this character’s set of skills is not quite as precise as Neeson’s ex-CIA agent’s skills, but enough to be remarkably resourceful under the circumstances. If you’re at all familiar with Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express or the several film and television versions (David Suchet is hands down the best Hercule Poirot you’ll ever see), The Commuter sort of plays out similarly, but the endgame is almost reversed. That is until the campy and needless grand finale where the twist most folks should see coming a mile away occurs following an overblown train derailment scene that of course all of the possible targets Mike had coerced into the same car survive.

Ah, Hollywood. Can’t have a suspense thriller without an overcooked action sequence, can you? As an industry, Hollywood does so love repetition. Every film that makes even a modest profit gets earmarked for franchising. Taken was given two true sequels, both increasingly inferior to the original, and a slew of sequels in spirit if not name. Taken: On a Plane. Taken: On a Train. I just wish Liam Neeson didn’t feel so compelled to be in all of them. The man is a talented actor whose early credits included Excalibur, Rob Roy, Michael Collins, Kinsey, Kingdom of Heaven, Les Misérables, and Schindler’s List. Taken was good fun, but enough is enough. I know he had a lousy time doing the Star Wars prequels (I feel your pain, Liam) but surely your agent can find you something meatier to sink your teeth into. I just hope it’s not Taken: On a Spaceship, or whatever plot Jaume Collet-Serra is thinking about next.

2.5 / 5.0