Neither Liam Neeson nor spectacular effects can keep The Commuter on track
Ballymena's finest is back in ageing tough guy mode in another high-octane action thriller but not even Liam Neeson can prevent The Commuter from derailing, writes Damon Smith
Film Review: THE COMMUTER (15, 104 mins)
Action/Thriller/Romance. Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Jonathan Banks, Colin McFarlane, Elizabeth McGovern, Dean-Charles Chapman. Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
SPANISH director Jaume Collet-Serra's high-octane action thriller careens along the Hudson Line of New York City's busy Metro-North Railroad for a preposterous high-stakes game of hide and seek aboard an evening rush hour train.
Logic is left standing on the platform of Grand Central station as three scriptwriters merrily propel their two-dimensional characters down narrative sidings in order to extend our journey time and give the false impression of dramatic momentum.
A ridiculously overblown finale, which begs unfavourable comparisons to Jan de Bont's Speed, temporarily quickens the pulse but The Commuter has already derailed before this spectacular, special effects-laden flourish.
Collet-Serra reunites with gruff leading man Liam Neeson after their testosterone-fuelled collaborations on Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night, and he borrows elements from those three bruising skirmishes for this rickety runaway train.
The director works tirelessly to milk tension from claustrophobic confines, shooting hand-to-hand fisticuffs from unusual angles– both inside and out of moving carriages– or hurtling down aisles to convey distance between unsuspecting passengers.
Neeson continues to bruise knuckles as a crusading father a la Taken, who doesn't know the meaning of surrender when he's facing impossible odds and muscular combatants half his age.
He plays former NYPD detective Michael McCauley, who traded the badge for a well-paid office job.
Unfortunately, redundancy comes calling and Michael commiserates with best friend Alex (Patrick Wilson) in order to delay telling his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) the bad news.
"She doesn't know we've got nothing to fall back on," growls Michael, who needs a steady income to finance a college education for his son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman).
Heading home on his usual rail service, Michael trades pleasantries with conductor Sam (Colin McFarlane) and fellow passenger Walt (Jonathan Banks) before settling down to read a book.
An enigmatic woman called Joanna (Vera Farmiga) slinks into the opposite seat and strikes up a cryptic conversation.
She intimates there is a brown paper bag containing $25,000 hidden in one of the toilets and Michael can earn a further $75,000 if he agrees to find a passenger called Prynne, who is travelling to Cold Spring station in Zone 7.
Curiosity piqued, Michael takes the cash then hesitates when he consults his rusty moral compass.
"Find Prynne, find the bag, or there will be consequences," snarls Joanna by telephone, and the die is cast.
The Commuter is riddled with gaping plot holes that undermine the central race against time.
Neeson is a physically imposing presence in the bone-crunching fight sequences.
However, there's not one instance when we fear for his flawed hero's safety, even when Michael's head is being thrust out of a smashed carriage window into the path of an oncoming train.
The wheels come off Collet-Serra's picture but Neeson chugs on regardless.