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Source Code is solid, but no stunner 

Sir, I knew Scott Bakula. I used to watch him regularly in Quantum Leap, wedged in somewhere amid the wondrous, swirling storm of ’90s awesomeness that gave us Unsolved Mysteries, America’s Funniest Home Videos and Doogie Howser, M.D.

You, sir, are no Scott Bakula.

All right, let’s back it up a moment. That was disingenuous. For one thing, I’m not necessarily all that keen on comparing actors in the first place. For another, Jake “The Hammer” Gyllenhaal (I’ve decided to call him “The Hammer” because “Dreamy-McSoulful-Eyes-That-I-Sketch-Crudely-All-OverMy-Lisa-Frank-Binder” lacks brevity) acquits himself well in his latest outing, Source Code, Duncan Jones’ suspense-y, mind-bend-y, Quantum-Leap-meets-Groundhog-Day follow-up to 2009’s Moon. (For a third, I just felt like paraphrasing Lloyd Bentsen.)

In Source Code, soldier Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a Chicago commuter train, disoriented and accompanied by a pretty brunette (Monaghan) whom he doesn’t recognize, but who keeps calling him “Sean.” Understandably distraught — last he knew, he was flying helicopters in Afghanistan — he rushes to the restroom, where he will eventually discover both (A) that his day is a good deal stranger than a mere case of mistaken identity, and (B) a bomb. Sure enough, minutes after his first stirring, the whole business blows sky-high, and Stevens wakes up again, this time in a stranger place.

Last time out, Jones (the erstwhile Zowie Bowie, scion of David) gave us Moon, a very cool, very stylish bit of sci-fi brain-buggery that, while it somehow didn’t manage to blow my pants off as quite much as I’d wanted it to (despite being largely Sam Rockwell-centric `yes!` and achieving much of its visual-effects bang via the use of 2001- and Episode IV-esque scale models, as opposed to CGI `double yes!`), was nonetheless fun, memorable, and intriguing from start to finish. And, though I prefer that more atmospherically distinctive film, I could offer similar praise for Source Code, an ably crafted, more-than-serviceable tech-thriller with an effective hook (eight minutes in a host body to save the day, then rinse/repeat) and solid performances (the ever-excellent Farmiga stands out). The film will keep you engaged and guessing for the duration, but may not necessarily stick with you for months thereafter. I was pleasantly surprised by an ending that was simpler yet more meaningful than I’d expected, as well as by a score that, oddly, brought Bernard Herrmann and Hitchcock to mind.

Really, my biggest specific problem with Source Code — and I don’t have all that many — is its title. Sure, it’s tech-savvy (it’s an html reference, far as I can tell) and serious-sounding, and refers to a story element, but it’s also vague and (pardon me) dull-ish, and indistinguishable from names embossed on rows of paperbacks at the supermarkets and airports. Two years from now, if you ask me about Source Code, you might have to supply “Gyllenhaal” or a brief synopsis — or tell me I reviewed it — for me to retrieve it quickly. The name is a turn-off; the movie isn’t. That’s a shame.


Dir. Duncan Jones; writ. Ben Ripley; feat. Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright. (PG-13)

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