Source Code

There was a bizarre temporal anomaly when I went to the theatre. They thought it was still three weeks ago and they were still showing all the movies from then. Okay, yeah, I just couldn't face Water for Elephants. I heard someone compare it to Titanic -- the agonizing 1997 version, not the good 1953 version with Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck -- and I got scared.

Even more bizarrely, no one ever uses the phrase "temporal anomaly" in Source Code, even though the plot cries out for it. Jake Gyllenhaal as Captain Colter Stevens mentions time travel, but is quickly and firmly informed that time reassignment would be a better phrase. Probably an even better phrase, at least as far as the Captain is concerned, would be "horribly painful way to spend an afternoon," since he keeps being sent back into the body of a history teacher named Sean Fentriss just in time to get blown up over and over and over.

The Source Code of the title is the brainchild of one Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright, Felix Leiter of the newer Bond flicks). He's figured out a way, no doubt involving three supercomputers, several billion dollars, and half the electrical power on the west coast, to send someone's consciousness into the body of another, compatible, dead someone to live out the last eight minutes of the second someone's life. Note that compatible here means similar body size and brainwaves and such, not that they might like getting together for coffee.

Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan, Eagle Eye) wants to get together for coffee with Sean, but he's being slow about asking. They commute to work every day on the same train, and apparently have hit it off, but this day is the day said train gets blown into tiny pieces by a weird-looking bomb. I can't imagine how anyone smuggled that thing onto the train. It's this huge backpack covered with wires and bottles full of stuff, with a cell phone detonator. The evilness of cell phones continues to shock me.

Anyway, there's a bomb and a train car full of people, and Colter has to figure out which one of the latter planted the former. Rutledge and Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga, The Departed), his main contact, explain to him over and over that it's no use trying to stop the bomb, rescue people, or any of that sort of heroic stuff; he's only watching, basically interacting with a simulation to find information. Rutledge and Co. have reason to believe that the train car was only a test, and that the real disaster will happen when a dirty bomb gets set off in the middle of downtown Chicago.

It's a little hard for poor Colter to focus, though. First of all, he's designed for that saving lives hero stuff that he keeps being told is irrelevant; second of all, his memory is a little fried and he starts out unsure of why this woman on the train keeps calling him Sean, why he isn't still in Afghanistan with his platoon, and why in the world these people say "irrelevant" so much.

It is, as you might suspect, something like a more violent version of Groundhog Day, with just eight minutes to live again and again instead of an entire day. I shudder to think of having to do all that stuff eight minutes at a time, without even getting to save your progress in between restarts. They wisely start skipping over the worst of the repetition after a while, so you can focus on the weird stuff without those distractions. Parabolic calculus, for instance -- Rutledge mentions this as part of the basis of the Source Code program with absolute conviction, but it isn't real. It sounds impressive, though, doesn't it? And slightly scary.

The group of teenage and twenty-something girls behind me had some trouble with the plot. They stayed through most of the credits trying to figure out what the ending meant. Don't let that scare you, though, since they also had some trouble figuring out where the exit was. I'm not kidding. I heard one or another of them asking that question at least five times. Me, I just followed the exit signs.

Having watched a great deal of both Star Trek and Doctor Who, I'm used to temporal anomalies, even when they're not called that, so the ending didn't particularly throw me. It wasn't exactly a great ending, but it wasn't bad, and it was in general a pretty solid and interesting plot, with some fun characters. It gets a solid four out of five.Watch for comedian Russell Peters as comedian Max Denoff in a neat little part, and of course keep an eye out for the creepy bomb-planter and see how soon you can spot him. And please, shut off all cell phones and other electronic devices while the train is in motion. Yeah, right, like any group of commuters will listen to a request like that.

Image: 
Jake Gyllenhaal vs. The Train. Guess who wins?

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