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Movie Review: Source Code

03/30/2011 08:25 am ET | Updated May 30, 2011

I can already see it at some virtual movie-revival house of the future: a "what-if?" double feature that teams Limitless and Source Code and points out that both films came out within a couple of weeks of each other in the same year.

The similarities don't stop there. Both feature good-looking young actors - Bradley Cooper in Limitless, Jake Gyllenhaal in Source Code - who stumble into something much bigger than themselves and have to hang on for dear life if they want to survive.

But where Limitless posited a pharmaceutical that allowed the user to be all that he could be, Source Code is a time-travel thriller that spends a lot of time arguing against its being a time-travel movie.

The film's central gimmick - that scientists have found a way to send someone back in time to the point eight-minutes before a certain individual dies, into that individual's mind - is clever enough. And it makes a certain kind of Groundhog Day sense.

Gyllenhaal plays Capt. Colter Stevens, a soldier who served in Iraq who wakes up on a commuter train to Chicago. He can't remember how he got there, he doesn't know the woman sitting across from him (Michelle Monaghan), though she seems to know him, and he can't figure out why, when he looks in a restroom mirror, he sees someone else's face. And then the train explodes ...

... and he comes to in some sort of flight-simulator capsule, or so it seems. He can hear voices talking military-computer jargon, trying to get his attention. Eventually, he finds out that he's part of a desperate experiment.

Just back from fighting in Iraq, he's somehow a perfect match for that guy on the train. Somehow, the military egghead in charge (Jeffrey Wright) has figured out how to insert Colter's mind into the man's brain - for the final eight minutes of the guy's life.

And that's his mission: To keep going back into the guy's brain, in order to figure out who on the train set the bomb - and what he's done with the dirty bomb he also plans to set off this same day. The catch: The train bombing happened earlier that morning and can't be prevented, but Colter can affect the future by finding the bomber and bringing back that information.

Except that, as Colter makes his repeated leaps into the past, he discovers that he can change the events he's experiencing. Does that mean he's changing the past?

What's the science here?