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4source“Source Code,” the second film from “Moon” director Duncan Jones, is a tough one to describe. Imagine “Groundhog Day” with a terrorist subplot, a romantic angle and an explosion every eight minutes or so and you start to get the idea.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot, who wakes up on a Chicago commuter train in the body of a suburban high school teacher. Baffled he makes small talk with the stranger across from him until the train is blown to bits by a terrorist bomb. Turns out he’s part of a high level government project called Source Code that allows him to inhabit the last eight minutes of a person’s life. Posing as this teacher he has a finite amount of time to discover and dismantle the bomb and help avert a much larger subsequent attack. Heroics aside, Colter begins to wonder what would happen if he went back into the source code permanently.

“Source Code” is sci fi in the mode as “Inception” and “The Adjustment Bureau,” stories that have metaphysical premises but are firmly rooted in the physical. In each case a wild plot is brought back to earth by strong characters that put a human face on the script’s fanciful ideas.

“Source Code” is a moderately less successful than “Inception” and “The Adjustment Bureau,” mostly because it doesn’t have the mind boggling depth of the former or the human touch of the latter. It exists somewhere in between, but it gains points from me for not being based on a video game or comic book.

Jones skillfully takes a premise that could easily have become tired very quickly—the replay of the same eight minutes over and over again—and adds in enough variation, enough detail to keep the viewer on board as Colter revisits the scene of the crime and slowly pieces the terrorist plot together.

Less successful is the romance angle. It’s sweet and ends on a hopeful note but isn’t as compelling as the love story in “The Adjustment Bureau.”

Despite that “Source Code” remains an interesting and novel piece of sci fi.

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