Two absolute junk January thrillers starring actors who’ve seen better roles, and if you waited until February to watch a movie in theaters I certainly wouldn’t blame you since the old truth about January being a dumping ground for the bottom-of-the-barrel looks to be holding true this year. However, not all bad things are equal, and there’s a key ideological difference in these two movies that–to me–makes a letter grade’s difference…
Proud Mary…An excuse for Taraji P. Henson to kill a bunch of people (which the movie, in the ultimate hit-man movie cop-out keeps insisting are bad people), all while we’re told she’s really not such a bad person because she refuses to kill a little boy—who isn’t part of the mission anyway—and then decides to raise him a later year, against any real character desire or logic besides the demands of the plot. [Her and her ward have no real chemistry, and she appears to harbor absolutely no affection for him in any convincing way.] Danny Glover is silky-smooth as a menancing crime boss and Bill Brown elevates junk like this as if it were Othello, but Henson looks a little lost with much of what’s going on, and never quite connects with most of the other characters. And this thing is really just cobbled together with cliches from dozens of Tarantino knock-offs, and even old Hollywood tropes like the anti-hero who raises a kid to make them sympathetic (which has been around since at least the black-and-white version of “The Champ”).
The Commuter…Liam Neeson being Liam Neeson is now so stale, you wonder who in their right mind still looks at a poster for “Taken Non-Stop Commute Shadows 5” or whatever the hell junk thriller he’s in at that moment, and says “I gotta see that!” This thing is exactly what you’d expect, except for a brief flash of personality via a Vera Farminga cameo and the fact that I really enjoy movies set on trains. Something about that confined space and since of cozy mystery can elevate even a star-studded dud like the “Murder on the Orient Express” remake.
Verdict: The biggest difference in the two movies is one of ideology since “Proud Mary” is nasty junk that only really exists to slaughter people in the guise of entertainment, while “The Commuter” is actually concerned with its characters, and Neeson keeps going out of his way not to kill people. It’s that tug-of-war between faux-sentiment that’s really nihilism (Taraji would burn the world down to protect this kid, but that really just seems like an excuse since the movie wants her to burn the world down) and an honest sense of decency and concern for its own characters that—to me—makes the difference. I’ve just grown tired of movies that seem to create characters solely for the purpose of killing them. The Commuter wins by a “C” grade to Proud Mary’s “D” grade.