After delivering the critical smash Moon on a budget, director Duncan Jones attempts to survive the burdens of cash and expectations with sci-fi blockbuster Source Code. He needn’t worry: this follow-up is great fun, marching over any quibbles about Twilight Zone-silliness with sure-footed direction and Jake Gyllenhaal’s charm.
Jake plays Colter Stevens, an army Colonel who finds himself in the kind of existential crisis much loved by screenwriters and easily compared to other shows by genre fans. Yes, it’s Quantum Leap meets Groundhog Day with the boy from Donnie Darko all grown up.
So, Colter finds himself onto an Amtrak train heading into Chicago, sat opposite an attractive brunette (Michelle Monaghan). Glancing in the mirror, the reflection is not his own.
When the entire train explodes in a not-too-graphic terror attack, he finds himself strapped into a capsule of sorts and part of an uncanny military experiment; where he will have eight minute instalments to find the bomber, before BOOM, he dies again. Where is he? What’s really going on and will you have to watch it a second time, like Inception? I’m not saying, go see it and no.
Support comes in the form of Colter’s sympathetic handler (Vera Farmiga) and the grouchy leader of the ‘source code’ programme (Jeffrey Wright). Bearded and inscrutable, its Wright’s job to explain the science part, a piece of exposition I couldn’t wait to get to. It doesn’t disappoint and it is to Jones’ credit that hokum about parabolic calculus/nano-graboids doesn’t detract: you’ll be keen to find out what Colter is going to do next.
It’s the lightness of touch and a screenplay that keeps moving forward intelligently that is Source Code’s greatest calling card, particularly before a summer of Transformers 3. A side-note for budget fans, whilst a bigger production than Moon, Source Code reportedly only cost around $30 million – probably about the same as one Michael Bay set before the wrecking balls and nitroglycerine arrive.
There is no escaping the comparison with Groundhog Day and yes, it is a sci-fi riff on that; which is why casting Gyllenhaal was smart. He can handle banter, straight emotion, as well as the Jack Bauer stuff. Look out too for a nod to Quantum leap, though you’ll have to keep more than your eyes peeled. Despite the slight whiff of an audience tested finale, Source Code is really entertaining and may well be a rare beast in the multiplex for a while – a blockbuster with wit and intelligent design.