Leap before you look
WHEN NEWS emerged that Duncan Jones, director of the magnificent Moon, had signed on to do “a mainstream picture”, more than a few of his newly minted fans winced in alarm. Could he be lost to us already?
Most certainly not. The first thing to note about Source Code is that (insofar as we are yet able to identify such a beast) it looks and feels very like a Duncan Jones picture. Positing an enticing, if ludicrous, time-travel scenario, the film echoes the claustrophobia of Moon by restricting itself almost entirely to two locations: a train carriage and a mysterious, mouldy capsule. It dares to play with complex ideas. It doesn’t fret about confusing the audience. It looks as if Mr Jones will be okay, after all.
The story begins with Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a brave airman, waking up on a train opposite a friendly young woman (Michelle Monaghan). She calls Colter by another name and seems to believe he works as teacher.
Following a few minutes further confusion, the train is blown to smithereens and Colter comes to in that dark, disorienting capsule. It transpires that he is part of a government operation to discover who carried out the bombing and where the culprit is next headed.
The science part is pure back-of-an-envelope waffle – just say “quantum mechanics” enough and almost anything seems possible. But the key concept offers endless possibilities for creative perplexity. Colter’s controllers have created a computer-generated model of the train’s last eight minutes. Each time he relives the preamble to disaster he accumulates a few more pointers to its source.
More than a few critics have already described Source Code as Groundhog Day rewritten by Philip K Dick. The film certainly exhibits the unexpected sentimental punch of that fine comedy (no prizes for guessing that Colter soon turns sweet on his companion) and echoes the twisty meta-logic of Dick’s scrappily written tales. But Jones brings a grainy intensity to the picture that is all his own. Roll on his forthcoming semi-sequel to Moon.
One final aside. In the unlikely event you are bored, listen for a much blogged-about, uncredited voice cameo that references a similarly themed television series. I confess I had to look it up after the credits rolled. ANY LONG-serving film critic has a retirement plan. Ours is a drawer full of screenplays with titles Christmas Wedding, Christmas Wedding 2: Spring Break Wedding, Christmas Wedding 3: Christmas Divorce and so forth. Seasons may change but TV programmers will always be glad of themed stuffing. In a precarious sector, shoving “Christmas” or “Wedding” into your title is as close to a sure thing as it gets.
The makers of Hop know as much. How else might one explain this fiendishly festive product? Sadly, as mythical lepus go, the Easter Bunny is a beast of limited poetic possibilities, and the film is quickly reduced to plundering from weightier seasonal iconography.
Since when did the Easter Bunny ride around in a steampunk sleigh drawn by a cloud of chicks? Since when did he magically deliver eggs to all the children of the world on one short spring night? In fact, isn’t this just Fred Claus with an Alvin-alike CG bunny where Santy ought to be?
We might overlook the mythmuddling if Hop wasn’t so inconsistent. Skipping between live action and animation this year’s Pete’s Dragon sees man-boy James Marsden team up with a runaway animated Easter Bunny voiced by Russell Brand. Together they must save the holiday of diabetic comas and dental cavities.
It’s complicated. Our cottontailed hero is supposed to take over from dad (Hugh Laurie) this year but what he really wants to do is drum for David Hasselhoff. How can he dazzle The Hoff and take up the family profession on the same night? And will he and his new human chum manage to quash Hank Azaria’s chick rebellion on – wait for it – Easter Island?
The screenplay is repeatedly soiled with jokes of this calibre. A quality cast and the boffins at Illumination Entertainment (the voguish imprint behind last’s year’s Despicable Me) fail to convince us that this is anything more than a gooey, opportunistic confection, a kind of celluloid Scream Egg.
Sickly visuals and derivative designs don’t help and may yet earn a writ from Willy Wonka’s people. The rabbit, in common with the rest of the film, can’t decide if he’s a knowing adult snark or a cute fool.
“We’ve been delivering eggs for 4,000 years,” claims Hugh Laurie’s Easter Bunny. Like it or not, expect to see Hop every year for the next 4,000.