Liam Neeson can manage this kind of role in his sleep.

Arts & Entertainment

With Too Many Twists, The Commuter Spins Out

Liam Neeson's fourth collaboration with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra flashes short moments of inspiration.

He might be missing his “particular set of skills,” but Liam Neeson still isn’t afraid to take matters into his own hands when it comes to protecting his cinematic family.

His latest vigilante thriller is The Commuter, a slick exercise in middle-class action-hero silliness that’s neither consistently exciting nor intriguing.

Neeson plays the title role as Michael, an ex-cop whose eventful day starts with being laid off from his job at a Manhattan insurance firm, where he’s only a few years from retirement. He can’t break the news to his wife (Elizabeth McGovern) over the phone, so he relies on an old police buddy (Patrick Wilson) and his fellow commuters for comforting words.

Then comes a seemingly random meeting with a stranger (Vera Farmiga) on the train, who offers him a get-rich-quick scheme that comes with ominous stipulations. Essentially, he must locate some cash aboard the Metro-North train, then use cryptic clues to find the witness to a mysterious death before the witness disembarks at an upcoming stop.

By the time he regrets accepting the assignment, Michael’s suburban family is being threatened by thugs, and he’s forced to rely on his own resourcefulness to spare his own life and those of his fellow passengers.

Neeson can pretty much sleepwalk through these types of roles, and his effortless charisma adds depth and sympathy to a sad-sack character.

Neeson’s fourth collaboration with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop) flashes some moments of inspiration, such as an opening montage that pays tribute to the routines of everyday commuters and the multicultural melting pot that frequents public transportation. One confrontation in which Neeson wields an electric guitar also provides a highlight, and so does an amusing one-liner critical of Wall Street banks.

However, the derivative screenplay is eventually overwhelmed by arbitrary twists and ridiculous contrivances that dwindle rather than heighten the suspense, and evaporate any meaningful emotional investment in the outcome.

The film doesn’t gain much traction from its familiar claustrophobic setting aboard a crowded train, nor does it take much time to ponder the moral complexity inherent in its thin ticking-clock premise. Even before the final confrontation and big reveal, The Commuter has already run off the rails.