Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It Came From The Cineplex: Source Code

This review's a little late; OK, it's a LOT late, but whatever. I wrote it and I'm determined to use it.

Source Code is the latest from Duncan Jones, writer and director of the excellent 2009 film Moon. So did he manage to avoid the sophomore curse? Eh, I'm gonna have to go with no.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Colter Stevens, an American soldier who wakes up on a commuter train bound for Chicago, which is odd as the last thing he remembers was being a mission in the Middle East. He finds himself occupying the body of an innocent passenger named Sean Fentress. Before he can figure out the whys and hows, the train explodes, killing all aboard, including Colter.

He wakes inside a small metal capsule full of sensors, electrodes and monitors. He discovers he's part of the Source Code Project (Houston, we have a title!), an anti-terrorist program that uses vague and iffy science to project a living person's mind into the memory of the recently deceased for eight minutes at a time.

The Project Leader hopes that Colter, by reliving the last moments of Sean Fentress, can I.D. the terrorist responsible for blowing up the train. If he fails, he'll be sent back into the victim's memory again and again until he succeeds.

How this fantastic technological feat is accomplished and why only eight minutes at a time are apparently none of our concern, as these questions are never addressed. The movie's also a bit vague as to the physicality of the process. Colter's mind is being sent into the memories of the late Sean Fentress, but where's he? Is his brain sitting in a tank, hooked up to a computer? Did they download Sean's dying memories into hard drive? Are they holding a seance? It's never made clear.

Still, it's an interesting, if confusing concept. The movie tells us over and over that this is not time travel, as the event has already occurred and can't be altered. Colter is basically visiting a recording of an event. But then the movie steps all over its own rules and shows Colter changing the past. Or changing the dead man's memory. Or something. At one point Colter even leaves the train and follows a suspect into a train station men's room, which is something Fentress never did. How could an entire detailed world outside the train exist in Sean Fentress' memories?

The project's founder believes that the Source Code Project will become a powerful tool against terrorism. I don't quite see how. The damage to the train and its passengers has already been done. Sure, finding out the identity of the terrorist would prevent him from causing further damage, but it isn't going to prevent the attack on the train. Seems like a case of closing the barn door after the horse is already loose. Ah, but because this is a movie, the Source Code founder knows that the train attack was just a trial run by the terrorist, who's planning a second, more deadly attack against the city of Chicago. Only in the movies do terrorists rehearse their attacks in such a manner. It's the only way the Source Code project would ever be useful as an anti-terrorist weapon too.

There's also some vague talk from the project leader about how the passenger's memory may be generating some sort of parallel reality, and that if Colter's not careful, he could end up there permanently. Huh? So the guy thinks he's invented a way to snoop into a dead person's memories, but he really figured out a way to create parallel worlds? That's kind of like thinking you invented the brick, but finding out you created the Great Wall of China.

Eventually Colter ignores the Source Code team (who want him to observe only) and takes matters into his own hands. He discovers the identity of the terrorist and actually prevents the explosion on the train. This apparently creates a whole new universe in which Colter and his new-found love interest (a fellow passenger on the train who had eyes for Fentress) can live happily ever after.

This leaves the audience with one big question: in this happy new alternate universe, Colter is inhabiting Sean Fentress' body. Outwardly he looks like Sean Fentress, but has the mind of Colter Stevens. So what happened to poor old Sean? Where's his consciousness? Is it suppressed somewhere in the recesses of his mind? Or did it just get erased, and Sean had to take one for the team to let Colter survive? It's never explained, and the credits roll before anyone can question it.

The movie offers us an intriguing concept but ultimately suffers from vague technobabble and ignoring its own rules when it's convenient to the plot. One last pass at the script by the writer would have helped clear up a lot of the problems. But at least it's not another "Big Momma's House" sequel.

Wait for the DVD. I give it a C.

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