Of course, Source Code is directed by a Brit, not a Midwesterner. This is Duncan Jones' follow-up to Moon, a low-budget sci-fi success story I quite enjoyed. Where Moon seemed to easily expand beyond its limited confines, Source Code seemed to reek of Hollywood influence. A little low on style, a little high on Jake Gyllenhaal, a little overripe with inserted secret government official dialogue and silly filler. It's a thriller driven by a deceptively complicated mechanism that comes across as easy and refreshing. Gyllenhaal and his desperate, searching, anime puppy dog eyes star as sergeant Colter Stevens, a man who wakes up to find he's on a commuter train surrounded by people he doesn't know who seem to know him, and whose day gets progressively weirder from there. As we wind from train to catastrophic incident to military lab, the pieces slowly begin to come together for Colter (and the audience) and he begins to accept that this moment will be repeated several times in the not too distant future. He will ride that train and meet that girl (the very tepid Michelle Monaghan) and have her thank him for that advice over and over and over. I'll stop there and resist the urge to spoil the film for you. What I'll tell you is this: while Source Code was refreshingly simple, for me it was perhaps too much so. The ice keeping it cool is melted and the whole thing feels watered down, hollow, and too willing to capitalize on a very nearly sappy empathy instead of really maintaining any sort of edge.
In a highly mechanized, repetitive plot line, it is perhaps important to heighten the 'humanity' of the story. Colter is trapped. He has to do this. Each time he makes his 8-minute return we as the audience do need to see him latch on to something. Similarly, each moment spent in the interim has to hold up its end of the story as well. In that respect, Source Code is a successful film. It's entertaining, it doesn't spend too long in one place or overstay its welcome. Gyllenhaal is generally sympathetic even if you'd prefer to see him time travel back to Donnie Darko, and Vera Farmiga, in her role, plays it down the straight and narrow. The film mines its characters and forces them (and us) to feel something, however shallow it may be in hindsight. The problem, though, is that there's a pretty large suspension of disbelief involved in respect to both the science and the sort of interpersonal relationships formed on that train. There are topics not addressed, options shot down too early, and answers that ultimately wind up being remarkably transparent. Don't let me tell you it's not worth watching, it is. You'll like it, even if you don't love it. For a single serving spring release: it's not bad! This is one of those pieces of cinema with that certain "something" for everybody: action, romance, politics, fantasy, suspense, cheap thrills, and, well, you know, all that harmless fun. What it lacks? Style. A little bit of style and a substance past tugging gently at your too human heartstrings. Though I'd solved the puzzle early on (and yeah, it was maybe mostly a guess, but one I suspect most culture literate folks might make), I enjoyed the journey while it lasted, but am content to let it drift away into mere memory.