KUDOS goes to Jake Gyllenhaal for his performance in SOURCE CODE (12: Optimum), an ingenious sci-fi thriller in which Groundhog Day meets Murder On The Orient Express.
He cleverly balances vulnerability with muscle-bound action as a US Army officer who, thanks to advanced technology, has been implanted in the fading memories of a dying man to investigate a terrorist bombing.
When we first meet Captain Colter Stevens he’s inhabiting the body of a teacher on a Chicago commuter train.
Unknown to him, he’s on a mission to identify the perpetrator of the attack about to take the lives of everyone on board.
The story’s fascinating premise draws us in and the whodunnit aspects keep us hooked. And although the holes in the plot become rather more obvious after the final credits roll, it’s an enjoyable slice of suspense while everything is unfolding.
Gyllenhaal’s fellow passenger Michelle Monaghan and his sinister military handlers Jeffrey Wright and Vera Farmiga provide solid support.
> Bewildering fantasy adventure SUCKER PUNCH (12: Warner) sees a young woman committed to a creepy asylum by her abusive stepfather to undergo a lobotomy.
Babydoll (Emily Browning) tries to block out the horrors by imagining the institution as a sleazy bordello where she and other young girls (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone and Vanessa Hudgens) are forced to dance for seedy patrons.
Deeper in her troubled mind she acts out battles against dragons, robot Nazis and sword-wielding giant samurais in search of the prizes that will secure her escape.
Writer/director Zack Snyder employs the arresting visuals of his earlier films (300, Watchmen), but at the expense of a coherent narrative the lines between real life and Babydoll’s dream worlds are blurred to the point of confusion.
The over-the-top action sequences are memorable, although the sight of scantily clad women in balletically choreographed fisticuffs has the air of a heavy metal rock video.
> Sweet-natured coming-of-age movie SUBMARINE (15: Optimum) reminded me very much of the excellent The Squid And The Whale.
And there’s more than a touch of Adrian Mole about the self-obsessed but likeable central character, 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts).
The film charts Oliver’s first love affair and the troubled marriage of his middle-class parents, superbly played by Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor.
The couple’s relationship is heading down the tubes following the arrival of old flame Graham (Paddy Considine), a mullet-sporting new ager.
Richard Ayoade, best known to TV audiences as Moss from Channel 4’s The IT Crowd, makes a confident feature debut, particularly his sympathetic handling of character.
He generates a real warmth for Oliver and his travails where a lesser director might have resorted to cheap laughs at the love-struck teen’s expense.
> A Roman commander ventures into the wilds beyond Hadrian’s Wall to clear his family name in historical drama THE EAGLE (12: Universal).
Yet while there’s plenty of grit and craft on display from the tale’s opening skirmish onwards, somehow the result is never quite as rousing as you’d hope.
In this adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 novel The Eagle Of The Ninth, Channing Tatum brings plenty of brawn and brooding to the key part of Marcus Aquila.
His posting to the Empire’s furthest reaches presents him with an opportunity to reclaim the ceremonial eagle lost when his father marched a legion into unconquered Caledonia, never to return.
It’s an intriguing set-up and the film delivers a convincingly rugged portrait of 2nd Century life, including windswept landscapes and the hairy, scary Picts inhabiting them.
Less persuasive is the contrived central relationship between Tatum’s Roman officer and the freed slave (Jamie Bell) he takes along on his mission.
> Dwayne Johnson, the artist formerly known as ‘The Rock’, deserves so much better than revenge thriller FASTER (15: Sony).
He’s cast as a bank robber on a mission after being released from prison.
His motivation is revealed in the course of the proceedings, but, to cut a not-very-long story even shorter, if you’re on his list of names, you’re dead.
That’s unless burnt-out cop Billy Bob Thornton or perfectionist assassin Oliver Jackson-Cohen can stop him in his tracks.
The imposing Johnson has appeared in a string of family-oriented pictures, but he’s still capable of playing it mean and determined.
The impetus is lost when the film starts taking itself too seriously, with director George Tillman thinking he has something important to say about forgiveness and redemption.
Thornton is coasting as the hangdog detective and Faster relies too much on a final twist that most viewers will spot coming a mile off.