Source Code (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
If you haven't 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. Otherwise, this new flick will put you off director Duncan Jones, which wouldn't be fair to you, Jones or 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 quantum-leaping cup of tea, you can then safely skip Moon, which you'll hate.
Here, Jones pairs with screenwriter Ben Ripley, whose Species III and Species: The Awakening are on a par with what Source Code would have been if they'd convinced someone like, say, the muscly guy from the one Syfy series that's kinda OK but not really very good to star in it. Instead, it's the handsome and talented Jake Gyllenhaal playing way below his pay grade.
His character, Colter, wakes up on a train, and is unfamiliar with the woman sitting across from him (Michelle Monaghan), even though she knows him. Then the train explodes in a really big way and they die.
And then Jake wakes up; he doesn't know where he is, and he's got some discoveries about his identity to make. But the calming presence of the awesome Vera Farmiga (also playing below her pay grade) in a military uniform is there, reassuring him that everything's just dandy except that he has to go back into Source Code — the dumbest name for a computer program ever — and try again. Although no one can be told what Source Code is. It's sorta, kinda, maybe like time travel, or maybe not.
Big-brainy honcho Jeffrey Wright, who's not in a military uniform, says it's like time reassignment or some such nonsense that is ambiguous 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.) So now Colter has eight minutes, back on that about-to-be-terrorist-bombed Chicago commuter train, to find the bomber and hopefully prevent another attack.
It's like Groundhog Day without the humanist philosophy, or one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books: 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 and go up the tree instead. There's not a lot of drama in such a scenario, though the actors do try their damnedest, and it's not their fault the film feels so pointless.
It's Ripley's. 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, but it doesn't. What it attempts is actually worse than a cheat: It's a horrific tragedy offered up instead as a triumph. Where the whole endeavor could have been kinda sorta OK but not really all that great, it ends up being hugely distasteful, and idiotic for not even realizing it.