Moon director Duncan Jones' pseudo-cerebral, modestly budgeted sci-fi thriller is a propulsive ride worth your popcorn dollar, not for its preposterous genre-tinkering but for its refreshingly humanist take on a high-concept gimmick. A totally game Jake Gyllenhaal is the movie's glue as a decorated pilot who wakes up on a commuter train to Chicago in another man's body a few confusing moments before he and everyone on board are engulfed in a terrorist explosion. Materializing back in the Twilight Zone—a dank concrete techno-cell where he's debriefed via video chat by military handler Vera Farmiga—our Hitchcockian everyman learns of his role in the titular government experiment, for which his mind will relive an avatar's last eight minutes to gather clues and hopefully prevent a deadlier attack. Like every time-travel yarn (though, technically, the time-loop logic here has more in common with Groundhog Day than 12 Monkeys), there are far-fetched plot wrinkles and quickly reeled-off quantum claptrap to distract us from the impossibilities. However, the film's secret weapon isn't its tension-mounting puzzle-solving, sleek sense of visual claustrophobia, or philosophical questioning—but, rather, its sneaky compassion. Our hero accepts his fate yet still refuses to allow these strangers on a train to meet their doom, and Gyllenhaal sells that personal sense of wish fulfillment with real heart.
Gyllenhaal is totally game.
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., April 1. Rated PG-13. 93 minutes.