Contrasting the dark side of science with the possible benefits has long been a hot topic both in real life and many cinematic offerings.  If something benefits many, is it alright if it is unfair to one?  Then you get into issues of life and death, time travel, robots and other fun stuff people typically associate with science fiction.  Some of it is a little more grounded in reality than others, but they can all hint at possible things to come for humanity.  ‘Source Code’ has some of those elements.  Most importantly, it has Jake Gyllenhaal which guarantees an audience.

Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) awakens in a commuter train headed to Chicago.  This is unusual because he last recalls being a pilot in the Amry on a mission in Afghanistan.  It’s all a bit disorienting and new to him.  Things get weirder when he looks into a mirror and sees a face other than his own.  There isn’t even much time for him to connect with his fellow travelers, especially Christina (Michelle Monaghan) because the train car explodes.

He wakes up again in a strange chamber of sorts where he is strapped in.  Air Force Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) grills Stevens about what he observed on the train.  It comes out that he is able to live the last eight minutes of another person’s life in some alternate reality.  The train explosion happened earlier in the day and if they can identify the bomber, perhaps they can stop an even larger attack from happening.

Stevens keeps experiencing this scenario on the train, dying quite a few times, only to start over in an attempt to gather more clues and to solve the mystery.  Will he find the bomber?  Will he avert a large-scale disaster that could decimate Chicago?  Will he figure out how he got involved in this in the first place?

Yes, this is one of those movies where the audience has to sit through the same scenes and set ups ad nauseam.  Think a more menacing, not at all funny version of ‘Groundhog Day.’  Each time, a little more is revealed and Stevens reacts accordingly to the new knowledge he has acquired, so it’s not a completely frustrating and boring experience.  If the film ran longer than it did and ‘reset’ the simulation one or two more times, that would probably have been a dealbreaker.

As far as the twists and surprises, most of them aren’t huge shockers.  At least a few of my co-viewers openly made some predictions about what was truly going on about 15 minutes into the film.  The thought had crossed my mind, but I held out hope that the story would go a different direction.  Maybe this flick would really offer us something that hasn’t already been done to death.  No dice.

The narrowing down process of the bomber takes place over the course of a few revisitations.  Stevens grills almost everybody in the car with him, sometimes with a little more finesse than others.  After seeing what happens on the train and learning the objective, a few details seemed obvious as far as what he should be looking for.  Still, we had to sit through an instance of racial profiling, along with his tormenting of nerds and a failed stand-up comedian.  Perhaps some slack could be given because it would be a stressful situation for someone who is thrust into such life or death stakes.  Still, it just felt like Stevens was made to clumsily eliminate some suspects from the case because it would help to eat up time.  Nevermind exploring the possibility of getting the bomb off of the train.

Once Stevens actually uses his head and goes the proper route, things get a little more interesting.  The pace goes into hyperdrive in the final half hour to deliver the payoff and to wrap up loose ends.  It also helps to ease the ridiculously setbound nature of the story.  That was a fine approach with classics like ‘Dial M For Murder,’ ‘Rope,’ and director Duncan Jones’ fantastic previous film ‘Moon‘ but for awhile, it was coming across as a lazy investigation and lazy storytelling.  Oh well, at least it’s better than ‘Bug.’  *Shudder*

Jake Gyllenhaal certainly shoulders the acting load.  Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga barely have to stand to do their roles while Jeffrey Wright totters into the frame on a few occasions to check in on Vera’s character.

Special features include: commentary, trivia, a talk with the cast and crew, and a look at the science of the film.

For all of the problems that I had with ‘Source Code’ they mostly came from seeing too many movies.  Many casual DVD watchers will be taken in by the story and will buy into the surprises.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but for those of us who have seen these tricks before, most of the luster is long gone.

Rated PG-13       93 minutes                2011

When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!

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