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“The Source Code”

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and profanity.

Running time: 94 Minutes

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Air Force Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) has been comatose ever since his helicopter was shot down during a rescue mission over Afghanistan. The incapacitated pilot had no way of knowing that while languishing in a vegetative state he was being recruited for the “Source Code,” a top secret program aimed at enabling him to inhabit another person’s brain, telepathically.

And exactly how, pray tell, might the highly-decorated veteran accomplish such a superhuman feat? By way of some “very complicated quantum mechanics” involving “parabolic calculus” explains project supervisor Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) in inscrutable, pseudo-scientific psychobabble, not in laymen’s terms which a movie audience could comprehend.

In any case, a couple of months later, Captain Stevens is unknowingly thrust into the role of hero again when a domestic terrorist (Michael Arden) kills everybody aboard a train headed for Chicago by detonating a remote-controlled explosive. The military only has six hours to prevent the crazy madman from following through with his next threat, namely, to slaughter millions by unleashing a dirty bomb downtown.

So, Dr. Rutledge directs his able assistant Carol (Vera Farmiga) to implant Colter’s mind in the cranium of Sean Fentress (Frederick De Grandpre), a history teacher who just perished on the ill-fated train. She calibrates the Source Code’s wayback machine to teleport the time-traveling, body snatcher to a point precisely eight minutes prior to the railway blast. The soldier’s subconscious assignment in that brief window of opportunity is to determine which of his fellow passengers is the maniacal murderer.

However, when Colter comes to, he first has to make the mental adjustment back to civilian life since he expects to be engaged in battle with the Taliban. Between this new reality and his being distracted by Christina (Michelle Monaghan), an attractive woman sitting across the aisle, it is no surprise that the allotted time elapses in a flash and the bomb goes off again.

Not to worry. In this parallel universe, Colter can be given another eight-minute shot at averting the impending disaster, and another, and another, if need be. Each go-round in this cat-and-mouse caper, he unravels more clues, and gradually closes in on the diabolical villain with the weapon of mass destruction. As intriguing as this infinitely recurring chase scene is the simultaneous blossoming of Colter’s feelings for Christina, which leads viewers to wonder whether a romance cutting across-psychic planes stands even a ghost of a chance.

Directed by Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie), “The Source Code” is a sci-fi adventure predicated on a farfetched premise that works only if you never pause to ponder its plausibility. Fortunately, this high-octane thriller does unfold at a breakneck pace which makes it easy to ignore just how preposterous a plot you’re dealing with.

Mixing memorable elements of everything from “Memento” to “Avatar” to “The Twilight Zone” to “The Manchurian Candidate,” this thought-provoking mindbender even pays homage to Ronald Reagan’s signature line from “King’s Row,” “Where’s the rest of me?” for good measure. Here, we have Jake Gyllenhaal’s protagonist emerging from a coma to inquire with an equal sense of frustration, “Am I dead?”

You’ve got eight minutes to figure it out, again and again.

Posted 12:00 am, April 7, 2011
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