Mrs Craggus has a recurring complaint about Liam Neeson, specifically that in many (she says all) of his roles, he just happens to be the exactly skilled person the plot needs. When his daughter is kidnapped, he has that ‘special set of skills’, when his commercial flight is threatened by terrorists, it turns out he’s a hard-drinking ex-cop US Marshall, when his small aircraft crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, he just so happens to be the world’s foremost puncher of wolves, and so on. Her opinion is unlikely to be swayed by “The Commuter”, where Liam Neeson plays a seemingly mild-mannered insurance salesman who finds himself embroiled in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse aboard his usual commute except it turns out that before he was an insurance salesman, he used to be…a cop!
Yes, “The Commuter” is pretty standard Neeson fare, predictable but solid enough. There are occasional flourishes of something greater – the opening montage is a wonderfully constructed ode to the continuity and monotony of a daily commute as Michael McCauley slogs his way through the daily grind of family and working life, “Groundhog Day”-style – but all too often it falls back on cliché and incredulity.
Jaume Collet-Serra (“The Shallows”, “Non-Stop”) brings his usual kinetic style to the visuals, managing to keep things from feeling claustrophobic despite the four-carriage setting although he retains his tendency to muddle the action with too many quick cuts. The admittedly intriguing premise is let down by a clumsy script (the actual conspiracy is never explained very clearly) and high profile casting which tips you off to every twist and turn the story’s going to take.
“The Commuter” isn’t the grand conspiracy thriller it wants to be, but there’s no denying that one of Liam Neeson’s special set of skills is in getting audiences – myself included – to turn out for these throwaway action thrillers.