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Locomotive double feature: Paddington 2 and The Commuter

Locomotive double feature: Paddington 2 and The Commuter

Bruce SteeleWhile neither Paddington 2 nor The Commuter is going to win any awards or break any box office records, they share a virtue: It’s a kick to watch fine, familiar actors just turn it on for fun, whether in the silliness of a children’s movie or the silliness of an over-the-top thriller. Would you agree?

Edwin Arnaudin: Absolutely. I’d go so far as to say that it’s “disposable” films like these that allow performers to showcase their versatility and entrench themselves as our favorites.

Bruce: I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but I think you’re right. I believe you’ve discovered the secret virtue to January movie releases! It’s a month of palate cleansers: Lightly tasty but most serving to get you ready for the next serious entree. With that in mind, I’d recommend Paddington 2 to grownups without children as a pleasant break from Oscar heaviness.

Edwin: Agreed. As with its predecessor, the sequel has a wealth of recognizable British and Irish talent, among them Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson and Hugh Grant. All have a ball cutting up in the name of CGI ursine entertainment, whose effects work I again found impressive. Did you?

Bruce: I missed the first one, but the CGI here is first rate, much more than bear-able. Was that Andy Serkis playing Paddington?

Edwin: Credit apparently goes to his pseudo-apprentice Ben Whishaw, and sadly just in voiceover. But he’s great at capturing the immigrant’s innocence and kind heart, which holds steady even as he’s sent to prison and turns the place into a more cuddly version of The Grand Budapest Hotel’s penitentiary.


BruceWhere he tames a homicidal cook named Knuckles (Gleeson) with orange marmalade. I enjoyed all the supporting star turns, but I was really there to see the movie’s villain, Grant, doing a madcap turn on his Florence Foster Jenkins role as an over-the-hill actor. His ability to make fun of himself — sitting in a attic, creating conversations among his past roles — is quite delightful.

Edwin: He’s terrific and also makes for a believable dangerous foe in the film’s locomotive-set climax, an unintentionally — or is it? — apt set-up for The Commuter. And as you noted in the trailers that preceded the latest Liam Neeson action flick, trains appear to be everywhere in 2018 cinema. What’s up with that?

Bruce: Maybe everyone is trying to fill in for our sadly missing James Bond, who’s always had a special affection for trains. Murder on the Orient Express was, excuse the expression, a train wreck, so I was thrilled with the creative loco lunacy that ends Paddington 2 and was happy to take a seat with The Commuter. That one’s acceleration is more gradual, but it eventually picks up speed. Were you glued to your pleather seat?

Edwin: I had to readjust a few times, but was generally on board for the preposterous ride. The story of a downtrodden ex-cop (Neeson, natch) who becomes embroiled in a deadly conspiracy aboard the rails out of New York City is consistent with the brand of dumb fun the star and director Jaume Collet-Serra concocted in Non-Stop and Run All Night.

Bruce: Preposterous is a good word, but the scenario is set up well, with the diverse set of riders, any of whom may be the target of the mysterious blackmailer (Vera Farmiga) manipulating our Irishman (named Michael, natch). The two conductors with opposite personalities, the broken A/C, Michael’s ex-partner (Patrick Wilson) and ex-nemesis on the force (Sam Neill) — you know it’s all going to crash together, so to speak, for the finale.


Edwin: It’s a lot like Neeson’s tortured, alcoholic air marshal searching an in-flight plane and working through potential suspects in Non-Stop — and it’s again a premise rife with suspense. This time, though, I was able to narrow down an additional antagonist as well as Michael’s intended target (or at least that person’s sex and age group), and I’m not usually someone who makes solves very quickly. It didn’t ruin the film for me by any means, but made it feel somewhat drawn out, especially in the final act.

Bruce: I didn’t guess the twists, but you’re right that they’re not super surprising. What was surprising, in a good way, is the fact that the screenwriters don’t twist themselves in knots to explain everything, at it makes just enough sense to hold the unlikely plot together.

Edwin: The lack of an info-dump was much welcome.

Bruce:  It’s not one of Neeson’s more memorable action roles — the action is minimal, until the final act — but The Commuter got me where I wanted to go. And that was to see Neeson and Farmiga meet for a second time. I’ve thought she was terrific since Up in the Air, and even though she’s barely present “on the rails,” she makes a different kind of antagonist for Neeson.

Edwin: I like to think of these Neeson action roles as part of one big movie, so his Michael provides enough new wrinkles to that larger part. Having never seen Bates Motel on A&E, I feel like Farmiga has been M.I.A. for a while beyond the two Conjuring movies with Wilson. It’s great to see her in such a confounding, powerful role — and one not too far removed from her character in the train-set thriller Source Code.

Bruce: I had forgotten about Source Code; it was a good one. Meanwhile, what to tell moviegoers about these other train movies? They certainly shouldn’t take precedent over the many worthy year-end awards magnets, but if folks need a break from saving the world with Churchill or Kay Graham, it’s an amusing evening just to save a bear, or an Irishman. I’ll give both movies a B, with Paddington 2 a notch higher than The Commuter.

Edwin: And there are more quality awards contenders on the way soon, namely I, Tonya; Hostiles; and Phantom Thread, this year’s wild card that hasn’t been made available to local critics. As for the immediately consumable, I likewise recommend both of these diversions, matching your B for P2, but will go with a B-minus for Choo-choo Neeson.

Paddington 2
Grade: B. Rated PG. Playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark.

The Commuter
Grade: B. Rated PG. Playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark.

(Photos: Warner Bros. and Lionsgate)

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