Source Code Gets Déjà Vu As It Quantum Leaps on Groundhog’s Day

There’s an early episode of Quantum Leap, it might even be the pilot, where Sam Beckett leaps into the past and, despite being warned not to by Al, calls his dad. In Source Code, director Duncan Jones delivers an obvious nod to this heavy Leap moment – even having Scott Bakula voice the dad of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Colter character. That great little moment in the film is just one of the reasons to give up an hour and half of your life and go see Source Code – despite it’s flawed final minutes.

Jones’ sophomore scifi effort (his first being 2009’s bitchin’ Moon) also features a male protagonist who should stop trusting “the man.” Colter is an army helicopter pilot who awakens to find himself on the Chicago commuter rail, sitting across from a woman he’s never met who keeps calling him Steve. Manic and confused, Colter tries to make of sense of his Twilight Zone plight…and that’s when the train blows up.

He wakes up strapped to a chair in a dark, dripping metal cell with no doors. A videoscreen turns on and he’s told that he’s part of the Source Code project: a new antiterrorism program that allows a soldier to go into the body of a person during the last eight minutes of their life. They explain the “science” of it, but it’s all fantasy and who gives a shit about that physics junk anyway? Thankfully, director Jones brushes off the scientific absurdity and focuses on the toll it takes on Colter. He’s forced to relive these eight minutes over and over until he can figure out who the bomber is so that the terrorist attack can be prevented.

Thanks to something like Bill Murray’s paradox in Groundhog Day, Colter is able to remember everything from his previous attempts – while everyone else on the train acts out their roles accordingly. Each time he gathers more clues as he’s also crushing on Michelle Monaghan’s Christina. But as the pieces come together, the secrets of the Source Code project come to light; shifting Colter’s motivation from duty to selfless sacrifice.

While Moon is a bleak character study in a limited setting, Source Code is more of a ticking-clock-thriller in a limited setting. The acting is great despite the limited character development. The only character who sucks is the terrorist whose only motivation for setting off a nuclear device in Chicago is that he’s cranky. Jones and writer Ben Ripley (whose previous efforts include two direct-to-video Species sequels) manage to keep up the sense of urgency, but the whole show falls apart in the film’s third act.

There’s a shot that would be SO perfect as the film’s ending, that would have made it a nearly flawless 90 minutes…but then there’s the next 10 minutes. Ughhh! The film stumbles through its finale and several moments just seem tacked on and ridiculous for what the film proposes the Source Code program is capable of. It’s as if the filmmakers were afraid to leave the audience scratching their heads a bit and tried to package it up cleanly.

Despite its lurching final minutes, Source Code is worth seeing. It’s the smartest and most stylish thriller so far this year and is a great piece of humanistic scifi.

This review originally appeared on the Mishka Bloglin