Critical Mass: 'Source Code' pleases almost everyone
Finally, after what's seemed like months of real stinkers or movies with mixed receptions, we have something (nearly) everyone can agree is worth seeing: Duncan Jones' science-fiction thriller "Source Code."
The British director's follow-up to his debut science-fiction feature, "Moon," sends a U.S. Army captain, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, into the final eight minutes in the life of a train bombing victim over and over again on a mission to discover who planted the bomb.
The Times' Kenneth Turan seemed dubious of the premise, calling it the sci-fi thriller version of "Groundhog Day," but he winds up spreading the praise all around. "It may sound like a version of hell for moviegoers to have those eight minutes on a train replayed over and over and over again, half a dozen times at least, but the film has come up with a surprising number of variations on that theme," he writes. "Far from making 'Source Code' dull, those repetitions add to the tension as we wonder what Stevens will do next and how that choice will play out."
The New York Times' critic Manohla Dargis finds a strong connection not just to "Groundhog Day" but to "Moon." She writes: " 'Source Code' is bigger, shinier, pricier. Yet both movies hinge on isolated, physically constrained men who are not what they seem, including, importantly, to themselves. And in each Mr. Jones creates a sense of intimacy that draws you to the characters, so that the tension comes from your feelings for them and not purely from plot twists."
New York Daily News critic Joe Neumaier has perhaps the most entertaining description of "Source Code" in his rave review: "So back Stevens goes, again and again, and as the story plunks its 'Twelve Monkeys'-meets-'Groundhog Day' scenario inside of a house of cards built by Rod Serling and M.C. Escher, the truth emerges."
Meanwhile, David Edelstein of New York magazine attempts to do a little "Source Code" jumping of his own, by leaping into the mind of the long-deceased science-fiction writer Phillip K. Dick (whose work was similar to "Source Code") and attempts to figure out what the author would have thought. His verdict: "Dick would love the paranoid setup and probably hate the cheat of a denouement. But it all goes by too irresistibly fast to call a time-out for disbelief."
Unfortunately, you can't please all of the people all of the time. And Scott Tobias, reviewing for NPR, found himself falling out of love with this movie the longer it went on. His conclusion: "The last 10 or 15 minutes of 'Source Code' feel like bad studio notes followed to the letter, with all that careful, rigorous sci-fi world-building tossed out and replaced by another lame paean to the transcendent power of free will."
By going against the tide of critical praise, it seems Tobias doesn't need any paeans to free will. He's got that part figured out.
--Patrick Kevin Day
Photo: Jake Gyllenhaal stars in "Source Code." Jonathan Wenk / Summit Entertainment