Last summer, director Jaume Collet-Serra scored with the sleeper hit The Shallows, the Blake Lively vs. A Shark movie that is ridiculous, but in that fun, schlocky way that is entirely watchable. That movie was a nice break from the Liam Neeson Revenge Man movies he had been making to diminishing returns, and it served as a reminder that Collet-Serra is a good director, with a penchant for the scary stuff. Well, he’s back (already) with another Liam Neeson Revenge Man movie, and it undoes all the good work of The Shallows in reminding us what Collet-Serra can do when he’s engaged. This iteration of Not Taken, But Like Taken is called The Commuter, and it’s pretty much an exact remake of one of Collet-Serra’s previous movies with Neeson, the unforgivably stupid Non-Stop. But this time, instead of the action occurring on a plane, it occurs on a train. Will their next movie be a revenge thriller in a car? Go for the trilogy, guys!
Neeson stars as Joe Revenge—his character has a name, but who can remember it?—an ex-cop who became an insurance salesman, as one does. One day, after being fired, Joe Revenge gets on his usual train to the ’burbs, wondering what the hell he’s going to tell his family about getting fired. Only his commute is interrupted when Vera Farmiga sits with him and tells him he can have $100,000 if only he’ll find a person who “doesn’t belong” on the train. With a son about to go to college and two mortgages sucking him dry, Joe Revenge is desperate for cash. He sets out to find this person who “doesn’t belong”. If you’re wondering if The Commuter makes a racial profiling joke, the answer is yes.
This movie is unbelievably dumb. The Shallows is stupid, too, but it’s put together well and it’s just the right amount of schlocky to be fun. The Commuter is not especially well done and is quite ugly to look at—Collet-Serra can and has done better—and it’s not schlocky as much as sad. Neeson is starting to look too old for these action movies, and what was once a fun late-career reinvention is now tired. He doesn’t even look like he’s enjoying himself, he’s just going through the motions and visibly checking out in several scenes. The whole thing feels like an obligation, which makes watching it feel like a chore.
I will give this credit to The Commuter: It has a balls-out crazy ending. Just absolutely the dumbest f*cking sh*t in the world, executed with the gritty determination of people who really want to go home. It’s so breathtakingly stupid, it’s almost impressive. We’re talking “1980’s cocaine-fueled action movie” stupid. The gold standard for such stupid endings is, of course, Road House and the taxidermy room, and while The Commuter’s ending isn’t nearly as good as that—nothing is, to be fair, except maybe the ending of Speed—it’s done in the same spirit of “might as well take it THAT far”. This is not a recommendation for The Commuter (it is, however, a recommendation for Road House). There is no recommendation for The Commuter. The only people who will watch The Commuter are people on planes with broken seat-TVs that will only play The Commuter. And even then, I bet most of them choose to do literally anything else, up to and including crash the plane.