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Monday, July 25, 2011

Christina (Michelle Monaghan) and Colter (Jake Gyllenhaal)
on a train that's about to blow up in Source Code.

3 Stars

With 2009's Moon, Duncan Jones offered us one of the better directorial debuts in recent memory. With Source Code, his follow-up, he gives us a solid genre film with a higher budget, bigger stars, and some wild ideas. While it doesn't reach the heights of his last, it's akin to something like The Adjustment Bureau, which deftly mixed clever sci-fi with romance. In this film, we care a little less about the characters, but the storytelling method is dynamite. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it's a lot of fun to take in, which is exactly what I'd say about the film as a whole.

Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenaal) has been selected to participate in a one-of-a-kind terrorism-fighting experiment called Source Code. When a train explodes in Chicago, killing everyone aboard, Gyllenhaal is sent back in the body of one of the passengers in order to figure out who blew up the train and where they might strike next. He has exactly eight minutes before he's jolted back to reality by the explosion, only to be sent right back to where he started to try again. Every time he fails to figure something out, his body and mind start to feel worse. Things get even more complicated when he begins to develop feelings for the woman on the train sitting across from him, Christina (Michelle Monaghan), and when he learns the creators of the Source Code might not have his best intensions at heart, he decides he must solve this crime his way and find a way out.

Right away, Jones gets into things, not even allowing a second to introduce things. From there, he slowly reveals more and more to the audience until things become clear enough to follow. That's Source Code's apex: When Colter (and us) finally gets up to speed. At that point, it's takes an unfortunate turn. This film isn't Moon. It's a studio picture and, as a result, it needs to at least try for a nice clean ending. Whether it gets it or not I won't say, but I will say the third act is disappointingly predictable.

Gyllenhaal gives a credible performance, though I don't think his character is as well-developed as he should be. As we learn more about him, we realize he's not exactly the superhero you'd think when the film begins. But his parental issues felt stale and the romantic entanglement falls somewhat flat. Monaghan his adorable, but it's just a strange pairing in the context of the film because she's not actually seeing him. She sees another man, so while Colter starts falling for her, she's falling for someone else. It's difficult to explain, but it prevents you from really caring about what happens to either of them.

I thought I'd like Source Code a little more than I did, but that's not to say it's bad. But between the great reviews and my love for Moon, I figured this would be right in my wheelhouse. It's good, not great. Some intriguing ideas are present, but the overall arc of the story is pretty standard. The characters are paper-thin, and the ending is a disappointment. Source Code is fun, though. It's slick and entertaining in the same way Groundhog Day was, and it's just another reason to anticipate Jones' next film.

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