If you haven’t already seen 2009’s Moon, in which Sam Rockwell is a lonely lunar astronaut making discoveries about his own identity, I beg you to do so before you see Source Code, which will put you off director Duncan Jones, which wouldn’t be fair to you, to Jones, or to Moon.
On the other hand, if your idea of a really good sci-fi time at the movies is something Roger Corman would have made for $4.98 in 1974 now given a megabudget and movie-star treatment but not as much thought or sass as Corman would have given it, check out Source Code. If it turns out to be your kind of explosiony action quantum-leaping cup of tea, you can then safely skip Moon, which you’ll hate.
Jones inexplicably here decided to make his first Hollywood outing with screenwriter Ben Ripley, who wrote Species III and Species: The Awakening, which are on a par with what Source Code would have been if they’d been able to convince only someone like, say, the muscly guy from the one Syfy series that’s kinda okay but not really very good if you’re honest about it to star in the movie, instead of handsome talented buff movie-starry Jake Gyllenhaal (Love and Other Drugs, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) playing way below his paygrade. Jake wakes up on a train, and he doesn’t know the woman sitting across from him (movie-starry Michelle Monaghan [Due Date, Eagle Eye], not that chick from the one sorta okay action movie with Steven Seagal a few years ago) even though she knows him, and then the train explodes in a really big explosiony way, and they die.
And then Jake wakes up… somewhere. We don’t know where, he doesn’t know where, and he’s got some discoveries about his identity to make, but the calming presence of the awesome Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, Orphan, playing way below the paygrade she deserves) in a military uniform is there, reassuring him that everything’s just fine and dandy but he has to go back into Source Code — which is the dumbest name for a computer program ever; it’s like naming your dog Dog — and try again. Although no one can be told what Source Code is, it’s sorta kinda maybe like time travel, or maybe not — bigbrainy honcho Jeffrey Wright (Quantum of Solace, W.) not in a military uniform says its like time reassignment or somesuch nonsense that is equivocal enough to mean almost anything (and, indeed, in the end, Source Code cheats by changing what Source Code is… but more on that in a sec). And now Jake has eight minutes, back on that about-to-be-terrorist-bombed Chicago commuter train to find the bomber and hence hopefully prevent another bomber the bomber has promised.
It’s like Groundhog Day without the humanist philosophy, or one of those YA Choose Your Own Adventure books you remember from fourth grade: you know, you come to the end of a chapter and choose to go into the cave instead of up the tree, and when the bear in the cave eats you, you just jump back to the choice and decide to go up the tree after all. There’s not a lot of drama in such a scenario, though Jake and Michelle and Vera — oh yes most definitely Vera — do try their damnedest, and it’s not their fault Source Code feels so pointless.
Whose fault is it? It’s screenwriter Ripley. Because after all the game-overing and to-ing and fro-ing, it comes to a point at which you think it might finally let itself do something tough and honest, something with a bit of stick-to-it-iveness… and it doesn’t. When Source Code finally does something daring it’s worse than a cheat: it’s a horrific tragedy it doesn’t even realize is a horrific tragedy. It’s offered up as a triumph. Where the whole endeavor could have been kinda sorta okay but not really all that great if you’re honest about it, it ends up being hugely distasteful, and idiotic for not even realizing that it is.
[To discuss the ending of the film, please go here.]