During the last quarter of the year, many films are offered in theaters and with several so exceptional in story or performances that they are sure to garner film award nominations, if not the statue itself. As we enter a new year, we can expect the guilty pleasure of what is often referred to as a “B movie” – one that is not an “arthouse” film or does not have the huge budget, but is entertaining to some film fans. One director’s work that I have grown accustomed to look forward to often this time of year is Barcelona born Jaume Collet-Serra since 2005 with the remake of “House of Wax.” He has developed a great collaboration with Liam Neeson in the lead of many action films, “Run All Night,” “Non Stop” and “Unknown” and his latest, “The Commuter,” does not disappoint when it comes to fans who enjoy planes, trains and automobiles going everywhere other than where they should be.
Collet-Serra does well helming the movie based on a story by Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi, who penned the screenplay along with Ryan Engle. While the script is not totally predictable, there are some scenes that may bring to mind “speeding train” scenes from other films. It is a little hard to buy into Liam Neeson performing the role of an insurance agent for an entire one hour and 44 minutes at the beginning of the film. It is not long before the viewer learns the insurance industry gig is a more recent one, away from the stress of a job in another field. Neeson’s talent is such that he can perform the many characters that find him challenged when using public transportation such as planes and trains as in “Non Stop” and now “The Commuter.”
This story/script definitely does not find Neeson’s character, Michael MacCauley sitting behind a desk for more than a minute – in fact he sits more on the train – that is, until this family man is approached by a stranger. The beautiful blonde, Joanna (Vera Farmiga) asks for a favor to be done quickly and subsequently nothing is the same for the passengers on a certain route. While Farmiga is not in many scenes, and her voice is heard in others, she excels as the slick villain who thinks she has this “favor” destined to be completed without a hitch.
The one huge turn off with the story is with the opening scenes of the MacCauley family’s morning routine, including wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) and teenage son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman). It basically is a fancy way to inform the viewer the AARP age couple has debt and a kid about to attend college. Unfortunately, McGovern (“Downton Abbey”) is given few scenes for anyone to care about her or what she does. Thankfully, the dull scenes don’t last long and the intrigue begins when Michael has a beer with his buddy, Murphy (Patrick Wilson) — a cop and yet another top cop, Captain Hawthorne (Sam Neill, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) shows up.
Among the cast that serve as commuters vary, including Jonathan Banks, Killian Scott, Shazad Latif, Clara Lago, Florence Pugh, Ella-Rae Smith, and other cast members in the story include Letitia Wright, Damson Idris, Andy Nyman, Colin McFarlane and Kingsley Ben-Adir among the many. They all portray convincing characters.
Hold on to your popcorn and soda as you watch!
Camera (color, widescreen): Paul Cameron. Editor: Nicholas de Toth. Music: Roque Banos.
The film is rated PG-13 for some intense action, violence, and language. In theaters January 12th.
By Liz Lopez
Rating B –