Source Code (Summit Entertainment, PG-13)

Source Code holds its own and doesn’t rip things off so much as uses ideas as fertilizer in its garden.


The new Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle Source Code is, I’m sure, going to be inundated with comparisons to Inception, with less-savvy moviegoers probably even insisting that Source Code is a blatant rip-off. More than anything, it’s a matter of Source Code being Christopher Nolan-esque (and I mean that in a good way); it bears about as much in common with Inception as it does Memento or Following, and it shares a lot of Nolan’s usual preoccupations, like the nature of memory and the concept of non-linear time.
To be more specific, Source Code is the story of Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal), who at the beginning of the film finds himself inside of someone else’s body, Quantum Leap-style (we later hear Leap’s Scott Bakula as the voice of Colter’s father). Colter doesn’t know how he wound up in there or what he’s supposed to be doing, but he soon finds that he has a pretty girlfriend named Christina (the reliably unmemorable Michelle Monaghan) and is on a commuter train that is a few minutes away from being blown up by a bomb. Upon his and his surrogate’s death by exploding train, he finds himself back in his own body seemingly under the command of a lady named Colleen (Up in the Air’s Vera Farmiga), who is the person who dumps him in Michelle’s boyfriend’s body after some cryptic briefs.
Colleen herself at least appears to be working for an aloof character named Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), who Colter gets glimpses of doing something behind Colleen. Although Colleen seems reluctant to give Colter much in the way of information at all, she is quick to keep returning Colter to the same scenario with Christina on the train; it seems his task is to identify the person who plants the bomb on the train and to, of course, keep the bomb from going off. On top of that, Colter has his own motivation to find out just how he, Colter, found himself in the situation of being plunked in other people’s bodies to solve problems. It’s not something he remembers signing up for, and the behavior of Colleen and Dr. Rutledge is mildly nefarious.
Nolan’s oeuvre and Quantum Leap aside, there’s another obvious influence here: Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day. Colter has to keep reliving the same day until he gets it right. But as easy as it is to identify Source Code’s many influences, this does the film a disservice—Source Code holds its own and doesn’t rip things off so much as uses their ideas as fertilizer in its garden. It helps that the script, by relative newcomer Ben Ripley, is good, but most of the film’s success can be attributed to Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son and helmer of the successful Sam Rockwell film Moon in 2009. Jones is a natural for pacing and clarity in unclear situations, and he seems rather handy at turning in sophisticated-looking quasi-sci-fi films on modest budgets, which is a rarity these days. Here’s hoping that he can continue this streak, as Hollywood could use some more good, inventive directors like him. | Pete Timmermann

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