• by Wes Singleton

The Commuter, C

Rated PG-13, 105 minutes

If you want to describe the new Liam Neeson flick "The Commuter" in just a sentence, it could be "'Taken' on a Train." As silly as that sounds, it's not far from the truth. "The Commuter" is a slick and entertaining thriller but also immensely contrived, especially in its over-the-top final act, when it (literally) goes off the rails.

Laid-off insurance salesman Michael McCauley (Neeson) is on his daily commute home, which quickly becomes anything but routine. After being contacted by a mysterious stranger named Joanna ("Bates Motel's" Vera Farmiga), Michael is forced to uncover the identity of a hidden passenger on the train before the last stop. As he works against the clock to solve the puzzle, he is unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy that carries life and death stakes for everyone on the train.

"The Commuter" takes Neeson and "Taken's" special-skill-set formula, putting the charming, likable Neeson, an ex-cop, on a train who must become the hero. It's directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who's been Neeson's go-to director, after all he directed Neeson in "Non-Stop" ("Taken on a Plane"), "Unknown" ("Taken in my Brain"), and "Run All Night" ("Taken on the Go"), and co-written by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, and Ryan Engle.

Rather than call it "The Commuter," I'd call it a bunch of nonsense, given that's what it is. The first act works the best, nearly becoming a lean, tight thriller, but I didn't understand why it was necessary for someone - in this case the lovely Farmiga - to board the train just to tell him what to do. If she has an idea of who it is, why doesn't she just kill them herself? I mean, isn't that just wasting a bunch of time? Sorry to throw water on the fire here by diluting the premise, but I'm just stating the obvious.

The last act, an uneasy mix of "Speed" and "Murder on the Orient Express" goes over the top with a big, dramatic train wreck and a bunch of conspiracy bull that stretches the limits of what Neeson can do. Patrick Wilson ("Insidious"), Sam Neill and Elizabeth McGovern are lost in the fray, as is the most fun character, played by Emmy-winner Jonathan Banks ("Breaking Bad"), but the script seems to take delight in getting rid of him.

Neeson does the best to carry this thing on his back and he's appealing as ever with a handful of admittedly exciting moments (he even knows how to unhook a train!), but it's so ridiculous it's hard to buy into, with an equally baffling ending that'll leave most scratching their heads. "The Commuter" is a likable yet very silly piece of fluff that's best to skip that'll leave you wondering what's next for Neeson. "Taken on a Bus?" "Taken on the White House?"

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