Sometimes things don’t need to be amazing to be good. There are plenty of things that are perfectly good but also perfectly generic. Example: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. There’s nothing really remarkable about it — in fact, it’s renowned for its ordinariness. “Source Code” is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s uncomplicated (except for the plot) with just the right amount of action and thrills to balance out the lack of character development.
At Quality 16 and Rave
When Air Force Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal, “Love and Other Drugs”) awakes, he is on a train. There is a woman he has never seen before calling him by a name he has never heard. In his pocket is an ID that doesn’t belong to him and then, out of nowhere, the train is engulfed in a fiery inferno. Stevens is jerked back to a darkened capsule, where it’s explained to him by a soldier named Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga, “Up in the Air”) that he is being sent back to relive the last eight minutes before a train explosion through the eyes of a stranger in order to find the bomber, and he will not be allowed to rest until he succeeds.
The film is a little bit confused about where it wants to go from there. It could be a psychological thriller, it could be an ethical commentary, it could be a story about true love and destiny — the possibilities are endless. What it is for sure is gripping. Audiences will have a hard time tearing their eyes from the screen just in case they miss something really amazing. The only thing is — as gripping as the film manages to be — that really amazing something never comes. There’s no real pathos and it is difficult to relate to the more or less cardboard-stiff characterization.
That being said, Jake Gyllenhaal is in it. He’s pretty easy on the eyes, which makes certain dull areas, like the constant repetition, easier to stomach. Played by Michelle Monaghan (“Due Date”), his love interest Christina is pretty bland as far as characters go, but that’s more of a reflection on the script than on Monaghan’s actual performance. However, Farmiga, the other female lead, is a real scene-stealer. There’s something about her voice that commands attention, and the way she carries herself is transfixing.
Though entertaining to the last minute, in trying to mimic mind-freak thrillers, the film is left with some weak spots. It’s not as complex or as smart as a film like “Inception,” but it tries to be with its plot twists and mind games. What results is a somewhat confusing resolution in which the film fails to address some lingering questions about the science and methodology behind the strange experiment. But, just as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is no Jimmy John’s Beach Club (with extra avocado and no mayo), the film is not incredibly groundbreaking or very memorable. Just appreciate it for what it is — simple and great in the moment.