The tagline reads "Make every second count," and this taut, entertaining 94-minute thriller lives up to the billing. Heavily dependent on deception and mystery to sustain viewer interest, though, Source Code is unlikely to bear more than one viewing.
Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up to find himself in the body of another man on a train near Chicago that explodes eight minutes later. Instead of dying with the other passengers, Stevens is transported to a cool, dark chamber where Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) inform him that the train exploded earlier that day. According to Goodwin and Rutledge, Stevens is part of an experimental military project that allows him to re-live the last eight minutes of a dead passenger's life over and over again so he can determine who set off a bomb on the train in time to prevent a threatened, larger dirty bomb from exploding in Chicago later that day.
With his memory of how he became involved in the project cloudy and his minders less than forthcoming, Stevens alternately searches for clues about his role in the operation while trying to solve the mystery of the bomb in his repeated eight-minute visits to the train.
Although the film has an intriguing premise, its spotty description of the science behind its time-travel conceit generates as many questions as answers, making it difficult to suspend disbelief.
Far more grounded is Gyllenhaal's earnest and relatable performance as the noble soldier trying both to serve his country and to do the right thing. As the doomed friend of the man formerly in possession of Stevens' surrogate body, Michelle Monaghan has little to do besides being pretty and winsome, but she excels at both.
Source Code earns a PG-13 rating for strong language and violence. Though the plot is engaging enough if you mind your step around some of its more gaping holes, take away the mystery of a first-time viewing, and there is little incentive to waste any more seconds navigating this film.
-Michael Leaser is editor of FilmGrace and an associate of The Clapham Group