Source Code; PG-13, 93 minutes; Opening Friday

Source Code is a model for craftiness. Not the best model, but easily better than the current competition. (Yeah, thanks for nothing, The Adjustment Bureau.)

In techno-thriller Source Code, Jake Gyllenhaal gives an understated and compelling performance as a marine forced to re-live a bombing until he can gather enough clues to stop it.

A young man, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, awakens abruptly on a Chicago-bound commuter train. He’s not sure how he got here, or why the pretty stranger across from him, played by Michelle Monaghan, is acting so familiar and calling him by someone else’s name. He thinks he’s an Air Force pilot, fresh from a mission in Afghanistan. But he’s dressed like a civilian, and getting looked at like he’s nuts. Feeling testy and a little freaked out, he repairs to the restroom, and the mirror shows him someone else’s face.

Then he learns that there’s a bomb on the train. Then he learns that his mission is to find the bomber, who has an even more destructive agenda for the rest of the day. The problem is that he doesn’t learn these important things until after the bomb explodes and kills him and everyone else on board.

In this time of Congressional agony over budget balancing and fiscal prudence, someone really ought to have another long look at military inefficiency.

But now our pilot is alive again, fastened a tad too securely into some dark and unfamiliar cockpit, getting orders videoed in from a prim but sympathetic liaison officer played by Vera Farmiga. Well, things could be worse. They could also be better. It turns out that he’s guinea pig number one in a secret experimental project allowing him to relive and manipulate the last eight minutes of another man’s life. Or rather, demanding: He has to keep doing it, as many times as it takes, in order to prevent the even greater impending attack.

This isn’t time travel, exactly. It’s more like surfing the electrochemical resonance, or something. It’s all explained by a staidly mad scientist played by Jeffrey Wright, who keeps a straight face while gently munching on the minimal scenery, like an earnest little termite. Meanwhile Gyllenhaal is just right; sincere without being too serious.

In Source Code, ideas matter more than special effects, which is a nice way of saying that the effects look cheap. Not that the ideas seem terribly expensive either. But for screenwriter Ben Ripley, who launched his career with Species III, this certainly counts as progress. The director is Duncan Jones, who made his debut with the artsy little sci-fi marvel Moon, and seems still to be enjoying himself and his surplus of audience goodwill.

Honestly, Jones’ sophomore effort is a lot less, well, horrible, than its own trailer makes it seem. Maybe its only real problem is that as soon as you realize you’re dealing with an improbably Hitchcockian hybrid of Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day made by the son of David Bowie, you start expecting more. So what else has he got?

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