Saturday, September 29, 2012


“Looper” (* out of ****) qualifies as a sordid science fiction thriller about time travel with an awful ending.  Stir a little H.G. Wells in with some Stephen King and add a pinch of “The Sopranos,” and you’ve got the basics of “Brick” director Rian Johnson’s contrived, unconvincing chronicle.  Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are cast as one in the same character in this disappointing actioneer that pits them against each other with a no-win outcome.  Furthermore, both protagonists emerge as more anti-heroic than heroic.  If you dismiss the fact these talented thespians bear scant resemblance to each other, you must still consider the scarcity of information about a distant future as well as a warped premise.  These shortcomings constitute the chief flaws in this imaginative but predictable sci-fi saga that unfolds in an erratic manner, lacks quotable dialogue, and features one character with no qualms about shooting innocent adolescents. By the time this uninspired, R-rated, 118-minute, spectacle has worn out its welcome; you have no reason to care about anybody, including an obnoxious telekinetic tyke who doesn’t know when to keep his trap shut.  Mind you, the future has never appeared more dystopian.  Some people are born with a mutation that enables them to levitate objects, and these fellows find that they can lure facile-minded babes into bed by making quarters float above the palms of their hands.  The economy has hit bottom, and vagrancy has become epidemic. Citizens can execute vagrants on the spot if they feel so inclined.  Any time Hollywood undertakes a time travel tale, the filmmakers conjure up some of the ugliest vehicles.  While the cars and trucks look hopelessly tacky, the motorcycles resemble something Luke Skywalker wouldn't ride.  Basically, you see a guy straddling a cylinder with handle bars.  Computer-generated special effects blur everything beneath his feet so he appears to be cruising on a cushion of air. 

Johnson’s screenplay is as amoral as his narrative premise is warped.  Imitating the best Mafia movies of director Martin Scorsese, Johnson relies on the voice-over narration of his lead character to acquaint us not only with his unusual profession but also with the seedy world where he thrives.  Kansas in the year 2044 serves as the setting.  Presumably, Johnson is making an ironic “Wizard of Oz” joke with his futuristic fable.  The premise of “Looper” is that a guy can live the high life by killing individuals from the future who have been sent back to the past.  Joseph Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt of “The Dark Knight Rises”) is a killer who was brought up the ranks by his boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels of “Blood Work”), to do his dirty work.  Actually, Abe was beamed back from the future to coordinate the equivalent of Murder Incorporated.  In the 1940s, the Mafia relied on hired gunmen from out of town to ice enemies on their own turf.  For example, if the New York Mafia wanted to dispose of an adversary, they contracted a Chicago gunsel to eliminate him.  The rationale was that the authorities always sought a motive.  What motive would a Chicago mobster have for killing New York mobster that he didn’t know?  This remained standard operating procedure until the authorities figured out the connection.  

Mobsters in the year 2074 cannot murder their adversaries because humans have become too easy to track.  Since the mob cannot kill their own, they contract hits out to mobsters from the past.  Gunman designated ‘loopers’ kill and dispose of these victims that the mob has beamed back so nobody can find them.  Our hero wields an exotic shotgun called a ‘blunderbuss,’ and the looper waits near a cornfield in the middle of nowhere with his weapon and a tarp spread on the ground.  Eventually, a bound man with a bag over his head and silver ingots strapped to his back materializes.  After he murders his prey, Joseph incinerates him so no traces remain. When a gangland assassin in the future has worn out his welcome, however, the mob sends him back to the past so he can kill himself.  They call this ‘closing the loop.’ After Young Joe botches the job of killing Old Joe, he has to dodge the bullets of his former associates—known as ‘gat-men’--until he can corner and kill himself. Losing one’s older self is referred to as ‘letting his loop run.’  Joe’s quick-witted alter-ego from the future (Bruce Willis of “Twelve Monkeys”) escapes and searches for a mysterious person code named the ‘Rainmaker.’  This enigmatic individual wants to eradicate any trace of the loopers.  Older Joe has been given a map with three possible addresses for this ‘Rainmaker.’  Joe wants to wreak vengeance on the ‘Rainmaker’ because the ladder dispatched trigger-happy gunmen who accidentally murdered his Asian wife. 

Instead of keeping things simple, Johnson complicates matters with a subplot about a kid with telekinetic powers.  Cid (Pierce Gagnon of “The Crazies”) lives on a sugar cane farm with his mom, Sara (Emily Blunt of “The Adjustment Bureau”), who runs the place by herself.  One of the locations that the Old Joe has is Sara’s farm.  He suspects Cid may be the reason that assassins are knocking themselves off.  Essentially, what we have here is a good assassin and a bad assassin who share the same body from drastically different decades.  Young Joe stakes out Sara’s farm so he can terminate Old Joe with extreme prejudice.  This uneven, poorly-plotted, high body count stinker doesn’t flow well and is often confusing, too.  Moreover, the logic is questionable.  Wouldn’t it be easier for the future mob to kill their enemies and send the remains back to the past for disposal?  Furthermore, what would happen if the victim that they sent back managed to escape like Old Joe and gum up the works?  As far as that goes, how does Abe know when a man is going to be sent back to the past. In most movies, you look for a character that you can either love or envy.  Nobody is lovable in “Looper” and parts of this movie are just plain downright dull.