Liam Neeson once again the man racing against time

Liam Neeson stars in The Commuter as an insurance man on a train who has to find another passenger or his wife will die.
Liam Neeson stars in The Commuter as an insurance man on a train who has to find another passenger or his wife will die.PHOTO: STUDIOCANAL S.A.S

REVIEW / SUSPENSE THRILLER

THE COMMUTER (PG13)

103 minutes/Opens today/3 stars

The story: Mild-mannered insurance man Michael (Liam Neeson) has been taking the same commuter train to his suburban home to and from the city for a decade. One day, while riding the train home, he meets a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) who ensnares him in a plot - find another passenger using only a few vague clues or his wife will die.

Someone is trapped in a locked room or something like it. Danger is everywhere, the clock is ticking, and unless he or she uses wits and daring, death is imminent.

The scenario describes this movie and breakout indie hits The Shallows (2016, starring Blake Lively in a woman-versus-shark plot) and Non-Stop (2014, with Neeson once again the man racing against time, but on a passenger jet).

All three films have director Jaume Collet-Serra in common. Working with different writers, he churns out efficient pulse-pumpers that are light on character and creativity, but heavy on plot.

Of the films, The Shallows is Exhibit A in how when Collet-Serra is good, it is because the writing is good.

In a twist on a fairy tale, here was a smart shark, gobbling up the white knights who had swum to rescue the stranded maiden.

The despair felt by Lively's character, stuck on a sun-baked rock, was real.

In this movie, however, the writing is so-so and the tension and absence of hope barely register, mainly because one knows that when Neeson is in a movie, save for a few manly grazes on his cheekbones, he is indestructible.

Collet-Serra, as in the lesssuccessful Non-Stop, relies on action and punching as much as brainwork to move the story forward.

Neeson is at his Neeson-est here. He is the average American dad who, when pressed, reveals that he has a special set of skills.

For all its hokiness, the film never descends into pure cheese, to the director's credit.

There are a couple of surprises here and a good build-up to the final smash-up ending (revealed in the trailer). It is enough to warrant a cautious recommendation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2018, with the headline 'Neeson once again the man racing against time'. Print Edition | Subscribe