Directed by Duncan Jones
Written by Ben Ripley
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright
Duncan Jones, who made his mark in 2009 with his impressive directorial debut “Moon,” has turned out another sci-fi film with an ethical twist.
“Source Code” is a mash-up of science fiction and whodunit mystery, with a dose of sweet romance for good measure. The result is not as smooth as you’d hope, but the snappy pace and Jake Gyllenhaal’s surprising comedic charm make it awfully likable.
Gyllenhaal plays an American soldier, Colter Stevens, who wakes up on a train and, to his bewilderment, finds that he’s inhabiting the body of another man. Eight minutes later, the train explodes, killing everyone on board. Stevens wakes again — this time as himself — in a claustrophobic capsule, where he learns he’s part of a military program that grants him unlimited access to the final eight minutes of one particular train victim’s life. Stevens' mission: Over the course of this eight-minute cycle, track down the bomber and prevent the terrorist from striking again.
The mechanics of this time-travel technology has something to do with quantum physics and multiverses. Jones makes the questionable decision of trying to explain it, but the explanation is too cursory to satisfy yet not negligible enough to simply gloss over. You almost wish the explanation, which becomes convoluted and tenuous (as plots pegged to multiverses often do), could have been less of a focal point: Chalk it all up to “quantum magic” and leave it at that.
Physics aside, Jones has taken a high-concept sci-fi premise and turned it into a worthy popcorn movie. In the spirit of “Groundhog Day,” he also revels in the humor of a hero forced to trudge his way through the same events, over and over again. Gyllenhaal is no Bill Murray, but his comedic timing is sharp.
“Source Code” can be ham-handed, especially when the script tries to tackle ethical dilemmas, but the agreeable spirit of the film remains wonderfully intact.