Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson), a 60 year-old insurance salesman, lives in the suburbs with wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) and about to go to college son, having traded being a police officer for the security of an office job which requires him to take the commuter train into the city every day. His routine life gets thrown off track when he gets news that he’s being laid off. He meets with former cop partner Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson), who tells him about a city planner who committed suicide while disparaging the new Captain Dave Hawthorne (Sam Neill). Anyway, after their friendly catch-up Michael catches the train back home, still haven’t told Karen about his unemployment. But this train ride might have a solution to his problems when occupational psychologist, Joanna (Vera Farmiga), asks him to participate in an experiment. All Michael has to do is find someone on the train who doesn’t belong and tag their bag with a GPS device and he’ll get $100,000. He only has until the last stop, Cold Spring, to find that person. Michael goes to the bathroom and finds $25,000 there, so Joanna seems legit. At the next stop a woman hands Michael an envelope containing Karen’s wedding ring, telling him to hurry up and find out who it is, because he took the $25,000 that means he accepted the deal. Michael tries to warn a fellow regular, Walt (Jonathan Banks) by writing on his newspaper to call the police, but when Walt gets off the train he is later pushed in front of an incoming bus. Joanna calls the cell of another passenger and warns Michael to do the task or more people will die. So he begins his investigation by checking the ticket stubs for all the riders to see who is getting off at Cold Spring, and narrows down his lists of suspects — there’s a jerky Wall Street trader, a teenage punk girl, a black guy with a guitar, a nurse, and a mysterious guy with a bag. Can he deduce who doesn’t belong in time?
The Commuter is like he Liam Neeson thriller Non Stop only instead of a plane it’s on a train. And it has a far more convoluted setup that takes quite a bit to get going. It doesn’t help that the movie begins with a unnecessarily long opening establishing that Michael has routine, average life, and then a sequence of him trying to get out of the mission, before finally accepting his fate and getting into the movie we signed up for. The investigation part of the movie is frustrating because Michael acts like a maniac himself, not trying to be inconspicuous at all — which is odd since he was supposed to be a former cop. In the end, the mystery person is cleverly revealed, but the overall twists — that Alex is working with Joanna — is predictable from the very beginning, and the final sequence in the movie goes on far too long. But the biggest problem is there was no reason for the bad people to go through all this to kill a witness, which they even give up on when they decide to crash the train near the end. This giant plot hole that I couldn’t get over: with the amount of resources they had it would have been far easier for them to dimply find a point to derail the train near the end of the line, and then kill anyone who survived. Overall the movie has a weirdly strong cast, which all make the movie seem better than the generic script they have to work with. Overall, The Commuter makes for a subpar mindless escape, although Non Stop might be better to watch if you haven’t seen that yet.