As mindbogglers go, Source Code boggles pretty well.
For one thing, by the end, it almost makes sense, which is pretty good for a film that straddles the edge of twaddle as bravely as this one does.
For another, the movie's repetitive nature -- a guy keeps reliving and reliving and reliving the same eight minutes -- never gets too numbing. This is Groundhog Day with bombs.
(Source Code was released on DVD and Blu-ray this week.)
Those bombs mostly have to do with a commuter train heading into Chicago. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal, in his best action role to date) wakes up on the train sitting across from a beautiful woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan).
She knows him. But he doesn't know her. And he has no idea what he's doing on this train. Last thing he knew he was a soldier fighting a war. Now he's a man on a train.
And here's the thing: When he looks in a mirror, the face he sees isn't his, which you would think might be the biggest problem he's got.
Except it's not. Because eight minutes after he wakes up on the train, it explodes and everybody on the train dies.
Except for Colter who finds himself in some sort of space capsule contraption, with a woman talking to him. He eventually figures out that the woman, Colleen (Vera Farmiga) is an Air Force officer. And she's giving him orders.
Specifically, she's ordering him back on that train, back to that same moment where he woke up. And she's ordering him to find the bomb on the train as well as who put it there.
The next thing Colter knows, he's back on the train, staring across at the beautiful Christina knowing the world will explode again if he doesn't come up with some really quick solutions.
So eight minutes later he's back in the space capsule, still trying to figure out what's going on. While Colleen, and eventually her autocratic boss (Jeffrey Wright) keep telling him he's got to get back on the train and there's no time to explain how he got there. Because the bomb on the train might just be the first in a series of bombs set to destroy Chicago.
Pressure much? Crazy much?
Director Duncan Jones gained a lot of critical attention with his first feature, Moon. Here, he's obviously hoping to catch popular audiences as well with a well-strung sci-fi tightrope act that relies on action to inspire patience as the story slowly unfolds.
Luckily, Jones (OK, he's David Bowie's son, the one who used to be called Zowie Bowie) is working with four fine actors here, each given a different task.
Gyllenhaal and Wright have the most direct jobs -- one is a semi-hysterical, clueless action hero and the other is the know-it-all scientist.
The more nuanced roles go to the ladies. Monaghan has to act each time as if her friend's increasingly eccentric actions are news to her, at the same time she has to let out progressively more charm as Colter finds himself eventually falling for a doomed stranger.
It's a sweet trick, but Farmiga matches it with every small twitch of her melting iron-maiden mask. At first she's just a soldier, following commands, but eventually Colter takes on a reality she can't avoid.
No spoilers here, but the film does get where it's going; and if it ends up dipping just a bit too deeply in the fantasy pool at the end, well what the heck, it's not like reality didn't leave the auditorium five minutes into this flick.
Source Code is a smart sci-fi thriller that maybe asks a bit more of its audience than the average movie. But the payoff is solid, and really -- how long is eight minutes?