The quirky sci-fi actioner “Looper” is being widely hailed as a true original, but I found it to be more of a low-budget remake of the “Terminator” pictures, albeit with a few clever twists.
The quirky sci-fi actioner “Looper” is being widely hailed as a true original, but I found it to be more of a low-budget remake of the “Terminator” pictures, albeit with a few clever twists. Whether or not that’s enough to satiate fans of the genre is debatable, but I have to admit I found Rian Johnson’s time-traveling yarn intriguing – to a point. For one thing, it stars the immensely appealing Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the title character, a mob assassin residing in 2044, a year in which it’s possible for gangsters from 2074 to transport their enemies back 30 years to be bumped off in a Kansas cornfield, thus leaving no trace of a body in the future. For another, it has Bruce Willis playing an older version of Gordon-Levitt’s character, Joe, sent back to the present to be bumped off by his younger self, or what in Looper lingo is called “closing the loop.”
The two actors look nothing alike, nor do they share the same postures and mannerisms, but for the film’s slim purposes, the resemblance is close enough. And their conversations and confrontations after the older Joe manages to escape his executioner are fascinating, especially once young Joe learns old Joe has returned to the past to solve (a la “The Terminator”) what will become a deadly problem in the future. The resulting moral dilemma, which involves the potential murder of an 8-year-old child, is thought-provoking, leading one to wonder if you’d have the courage to travel back in time to kill the likes of Hitler or Bin Laden as children.
What’s not so great is Johnson’s imagination when it comes to envisioning what Kansas will look like in 2044, when all the cars, roads and buildings are remarkably similar to what exist today. Heck, young Joe even listens to 1960s soul music. Equally uninspired is Johnson’s vision of China in 2074, the time and place from which old Joe is transported back. It too looks amazingly similar to today. But then Johnson isn’t working with a James Cameron-sized budget, meaning he probably did the best he could with what he had. But short money is no excuse for a script riddled with clichés and an occasionally too-simple story involving young Joe’s relationships with his older self and a tough-as-nails female farmer (Emily Blunt). First, she tries to fill him full of lead, but he ends up full of love after he takes refuge on her spread, far away from his ruthless bosses, who are after him for allowing old Joe to escape.
Gordon-Levitt’s chemistry with Blunt and Pierce Gagnon, who plays her odd but adorable daddy-less son, is potent, and the resulting relationships touching. But the film never fully draws you into the characters or the premise. Part of that is because Johnson (“Brick”) struggles to flesh out the story beyond its protect-the-woman-you-love parameters. Jeff Daniels dazzles in a couple of far-too-brief scenes as young Joe’s wisecracking boss, and Paul Dano impresses in a limited role as young Joe’s best pal. But despite the strong performances, the film often feels flat and unoriginal, especially when it repeatedly veers into “Terminator” territory. The tone, which oscillates between high drama and satirical comedy, also never feels quite right, nor do the special effects, which are pretty much limited to bound-and-bagged victims suddenly popping up on tarps in the middle of cornfields to be immediately offed by either Joe or his looper peers. It’s exhilarating to watch the first time, but by about the sixth, it yields yawns. The ending, though, is both daring and logical, two rarities in modern sci-fi. It not only makes the movie, it also makes a compelling case for time travel, which in the decidedly weird “Looper” is quite a trip.
Page 2 of 2 - LOOPER (R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.) Cast includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Jeff Daniels and Emily Blunt. Written and directed by Rian Johnson. 2.5 stars out of 4.