Leap be­fore you look

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

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.

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