March 31, 2011

Source Code

Mass time transit is so romantic

Grade: B

Director: Duncan Jones

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Pop quiz, hot shot: A madman has blown-up a Chicago commuter train and has aims on annihilating the Windy City’s downtown district. You’re armed only with a group of military physicists and the disembodied psyche of an Air Force helicopter pilot. What do you do?

If you answered teleport the pilot’s consciousness across dimensions into the body of an unknown, alt-reality rail passenger in order to ID the terrorist, allowing authorities to thwart the actual bombing, then you’re primed to watch Source Code. On the other hand, if you want your movies to be logical or, at the very least, not tie your brain into a pretzel, then you probably want to check your disbelief at the theater door.

As the film opens, Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) – whose last memory was a firefight in the middle of Afghanistan – suddenly awakes aboard a Chi-town rail in the body of a teacher named Sean Fentress and seated across from Christina (Michelle Monaghan), Sean’s pretty, garrulous girlfriend.

Eight minutes later, Colter’s – and our – confusion is suddenly interrupted by the train incinerating, and Colter again awakes inside a claustrophobic, techno-pod to discover he is part of the titular government experiment that allows him to cross over into another person’s identity in the last eight minutes of their life.

Carol Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and her boss Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) are the military minders who repeatedly whoosh Colter through a CG algebraic haze across time and space so he can re-live the same eight-minute incident, each time gathering more clues.

What’s refreshing about Source Code is that it doesn’t try to be more than it is. No misbegotten bloviating about terrorism or our Middle Eastern intermeddling. There is an emotional phone conversation between Colter and his dad, but it serves as character development and not some wider statement about the high cost of war.

Still, that’s not to say the film doesn’t break its metaphysical moorings, capped by an ending that’s as bewildering as it is tidy. Farmiga is a fine actress given little to do other than stare/speak into a computer monitor, and Wright method-mumbles his way through an underwritten role. Why exactly does the raspy Rutledge ambulate with the aid of a one-arm crutch? To borrow from Jon Lovitz’s Master Thespian, “Acting!”

Thankfully, director Duncan Jones (Moon) spackles over the copious cracks in writer Ben Ripley’s quantum claptrap. The dimension-jumping, mystery-within-a-mystery construct keeps the audience suitably engaged until Source Code deploys its most unlikeable devices: a compassionate core and durable romantic subplot developed over variations of the same eight-minute span of time. Much of the credit belongs to Gyllenhaal – steady throughout as the everyman– and Monaghan’s nimble, likeable performances.

This film’s own source code is best defined as 12 Monkeys meets Groundhog Day. The greater function of Source Code, however, is a welcome break from this year’s early movie doldrums. Common sense sold separately.

Neil Morris

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