August 24, 2011

Justify My Netflix: Source Code

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Source Code

Today's movie: Source Code, 2011 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this is the latest by Duncan Jones (aka David Bowie's son, for anyone who didn't already know this), he of the fantastic sci-fi cult hit Moon; plus it received higher-than-normal praise when first coming out in theaters, with many people describing it as a mainstream-friendly "Inception Lite."

The reality: Yep, "Inception Lite" just about sums it up, which I suppose you could call "Trippy Science Fiction Lite" if you wanted to make the reference more generic; or even better, perhaps call it "What Happens to Trippy Science Fiction When Extensive Notes from Studio Executives Blunt Down the Most Obtuse Corners," because this is absolutely what this film feels like in a nutshell, like that Jones had another Moon on his hands but dumbed it down here and there to make it more palatable to the necking teenagers at the back of the theater at the mall on a Friday night. Because to be sure, it's an inventive premise -- a soldier wakes up in a stranger's body, currently on a suburban Chicago train during morning rush-hour, which then blows up eight minutes later, forcing the soldier's consciousness back to a creepy secret military compound, where he learns that he is to be reinserted by a shadowy organization through unexplained means back into this stranger's body over and over, reliving the explosion Groundhog Day style until he figures out who exactly is to blame for it.

That's just smart and strange enough to satisfy any genre fangirl, and especially when adding deliciously evil touches like Jeffrey Wright as the literal mad scientist behind this bizarre program, turning the script into a double mystery of both who blew up the train and who exactly wants to know; but admittedly, it was also a bit disappointing to see the story overly explained, the ending easily guessable, as well as such "playing to the mouthbreathers" stuff like a trumped-up romance on the train, a sappy subplot about the soldier trying to contact his dying father in this alternate reality, and a disturbingly right-wing, Tea-Party-friendly message to serve as its deflated ending (namely, that it's perfectly okay to ignore whatever parts of factual reality you don't like, as long as you're upholding a vague, cartoonish sense of "honor" while doing so -- and don't worry, God will reward you for it after you're dead). Not nearly as good as Jones can be when unrestrained, but not nearly a bad movie either, Source Code is one of those crowdpleasing B-flick compromises that at least guarantees the filmmaker more opportunities in the future. Here's hoping that he takes another cue from Christopher Nolan, and uses his newfound box-office cache (this film made quadruple its budget) to next deliver a real stunner.

Strangest piece of trivia: Scott Bakula provides the voice of the father on the phone; his first line is "Oh boy," Bakula's trademark line from his old '80s television series Quantum Leap, which shares a similar premise to this film.

Worth your time? Yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 1:02 PM, August 24, 2011. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |