Sci-fi silliness in Source Code

The clever, melancholy Moon proved there was more to Duncan (Zowie Bowie) Jones than just a very famous dad. But is there more to him than Moon?

He takes a Hollywood gig on the twistily daft sci-fi thriller Source Code, which dabbles in a not dissimilar existential crisis. Jones’s heroes are trapped in isolation booths questioning the nature of their own reality, but this one feels more like a makeshift booby-hatch, decked out with narrative emergency exits everywhere you look.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, an ex-soldier in the US military, is locked inside a memory-retrieval programme he has no choice in being the test dummy for. There’s a lot of quantum-physics gobbledygook, but the basic drift is this: Gyllenhaal, in a sporting but thoroughly ordinary performance, wakes up on an inbound Chicago train, which explodes eight minutes later. Repeat.

Accessing the dying memory banks of one of the victims, his job is to identify who’s responsible during one of these Groundhog Day-like revisitations, and thereby stop the supposed terrorist, who appears to have been taking mad-bomber lessons from the Dennis Hopper character in Speed.

If it sounds like time travel, it isn’t – or so claims Ben Ripley’s script, a mechanical toy of a thing that gives Jake bouts of guilt about his father, a flirtation with a fellow passenger (Michelle Monaghan) and a conviction that he really can save the world.

As the programme’s operators, the intent, restrained Vera Farmiga and unspeakably hammy Jeffrey Wright give us object lessons in how to act and not act in pay-cheque hokum. It’s a fun game for a while: the conceit has the vertiginous appeal of a good Quantum Leap episode (right down to another face gazing back at Jake in the mirror).

But Jones can’t hold back an incipient tidal wave of mawkishness, helping the movie lunge for a big ending by shamelessly dismantling its own nerdy logic.

Source Code Dir: Duncan Jones; starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga. 12A cert, 93 min