‘Source Code’ has a simple, intriguing sci-fi conceit: Through a clandestine, morally nebulous program, the government can plant the consciousness of a willing (or unwilling) solider into the body of someone who has recently died. (In this case, it’s the victim of a terrorist attack on a Chicago commuter train.) That soldier can then re-experience the last eight minutes before the person’s death as many times as he can. Since the government has been tipped that there’ll be another attack on the city very soon, it needs all the help it can get.
What makes ‘Source Code’ such an effervescent piece of pop entertainment is mostly due to Jake Gyllenhaal. Far from being a Jason Bourne (or even Jack Ryan) character, he’s unwilling and also pretty dopey. One of the most memorable sequences involves an extended montage wherein he keeps getting blown up or dying in unexpected ways. There’s a ‘Groundhog Day‘-ish level of black comedy to the heady concept.
The other thing that makes the movie go down smoothly (the spoon-full-of-sugar factor, if you will) is the relationship that Jake has with one of his fellow train-mates/victims, played by the perpetually underutilized Michelle Monaghan. Their relationship is real and the chemistry palpable, to the point that you would totally buy Jake trying to throw the entire space-time continuum out of whack just to spend a little longer with her. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but like ‘The Adjustment Bureau‘ (which I liked a lot too), it’s nice to see a modern sci-fi movie with more emphasis on heart than head.
In the end, after all the white-knuckle suspense and visual effects-laden excitement, the film really is a romance. It’s not quite as emotionally fulfilling as you’d expect, but there’s a moment toward the end that is truly touching.
It’s not all sunshine and lollipops, though. There are a couple of twists that almost derail (pun intended) the entire situation, and the landing doesn’t quite stick. (The villain is also preposterous and dull.) Plus, Vera Farmiga is hopelessly wasted as a buttoned-down (but not unsympathetic) bureaucrat. But there’s enough to genuinely like about ‘Source Code’ (including Jeffrey Wright as the fascist version of Doc Brown) to keep you going. This is the second feature by Duncan Jones, whose debut was the delightful low-budget oddity ‘Moon‘. He seems to be establishing himself as a genuinely thoughtful and visionary genre director. Here’s hoping that he continues on this streak. He’s going to need more than eight minutes.