Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is insanity.
Watching the same thing over and over again and hoping for a better result is pretty much my job description.
But at least it means -- for all the indistinguishable remakes, reboots, requels, prequels and sequels that blur from one to the next -- that there's still room to be surprised.
Case in point: Source Code, a cool, crackling head-scratcher about a soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) on a hyper-classified mission that sees him repeatedly reliving the same eight minutes in order to thwart a terrorist attack.
The time-loop plot sounds laughably recycled: a misguided mash-up of Groundhog Day, Quantum Leap, Deja Vu and too many others to list here. But as he did with 2009's Moon, director Duncan Jones shows he's a shrewd, skilled, tasteful filmmaker.
In that lunar-set film, he built upon the foundation of such late-1960s, early-1970s science-fiction hallmarks as Silent Running and 2001. Likewise in Source Code, Jones -- well on his way to establishing a name for himself beyond being "the son of David Bowie" -- confidently invests the pseudo sci-fi conceit with Hitchcockian analog smarts.
When we meet Capt. Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) he's just found himself aboard a Chicago commuter train, disoriented and with little memory of what he's doing there. That would be strange enough, but then he discovers the reflection in the mirror staring back at him isn't his own; he's in another man's body.
Turns out, his consciousness has been uploaded, utilizing a technology called the source code, into the mind of a passenger killed when a bomb destroyed the train earlier that day. The source code allows him to experience the final minutes of the man's life -- as many times as it takes -- in order to identify the terrorist before he strikes again.
At mission control in "the real world," he's guided by Capt. Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) a jittery, crutch-wielding scientist lurching ominously in the background.
Back on the train, Colter is attracted to -- and aided by -- the comely young teacher seated across from him (Michelle Monaghan). One crinkle in their budding relationship? She's already dead, along with everyone else.
Throughout, Gyllenhaal's performance convincingly pulls us into his plight -- one that, as twists mount, turns increasingly dire. To this end, he's ideally matched with Monaghan, luminous in a limited but crucial role. If we didn't believe in the connection between the two, the film would falter. But they give us something to care about aside from the thunderously ticking clock.
Similarly in the "real world," Farmiga manages to convey empathy and understanding while delivering most of her scenes into the camera through which she and Gyllenhaal communicate.
All of this said, Source Code isn't without its issues. Most problematically, the climax -- nonsensical even by the credulity-straining standards of what's proceeded it -- is a letdown.
My advice: Enjoy and appreciate the film for the inventive, well-acted immersive adventure it is -- even if it is about eight minutes too long.