“Quantum Leap” meets Groundhog’s Day by way of The Matrix with entertaining results.
A man (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes on a commuter train to Chicago across from a pretty woman (Michelle Monaghan.) The woman calls him “Sean,” but he doesn’t recognize the name. In the bathroom, he doesn’t recognize himself in the mirror. About eight minutes after waking up in this nightmare, the train abruptly explodes, killing him and everyone else on the train… and then things start to get weird.
Sleepy-eyed actor Jake Gyllenhaal seems a natural for these roles. He’s a good looking guy destined to get the girl, but after beefing up for the ill-fated desert fantasy The Prince of Persia, he also seems a natural for the reluctant action hero bit. Source Code is the perfect film for those assets, borrowing a bit from a couple of genre films while putting its own twist on the outcome. Sure, there’s a high-tech explanation in there about quantum physics, alternate realities, brain functions and so forth, but the what you need to know is dolled out to the audience as well as the main character. Aside from a few predictabilities, Source Code succeeds.
In addition to the titular hero and girl-to-be-saved, support is provided by Vera Farmiga as a concerned-but-not-supposed-to-be military help desk tech (mostly seen as a head on a screen) while Jeffrey Wright appears as the amoral inventor of all the techno-babble. What’s happening on the train is only half the mystery while what’s happening to Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is the other part, and the inclusion of Farmiga and Wright is what makes that half of the film work. The train half is very dependent upon the chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan’s character, and that works as well.
While the core genre here is science fiction, there are thriller and romantic bits, too, that push the film forward, so fans of Jake Gyllenhaal only there for the kissing shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s also very clear that it wouldn’t at all be difficult to build a sequel around this or even a franchise, even without Jake Gyllenhaal. All you would need is a decent story mixed in with enough external drama to keep it fresh. The eight-minute repeating time loop concept might also lend itself to a decent television series, too (should Syfy remember their roots and give it a chance.) All of it comes down to a conclusion most will see coming (and won’t mind seeing considering what comes before), but it would have been a bit more interesting if they’d gone with a more Inception kind of ending (and there’s a bit of evidence left in that someone at least considered that.)
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)