Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
As time-travel suspense thrillers go, “Looper” is only a pinch better than mediocre.
The make-up that Joseph Gordon-Levitt wears to make him look like a young Bruce Willis is such a distraction that it alienates the viewer. Our unreliable protagonist Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a paid assassin whose job is to execute hired killers sent 30 years back in time to the year 2072. Joe uses an unwieldy gun called a “blunderbuss” for the close-range killings he frequently commits next to an abandoned cornfield. Joe dreams of using all the silver bars of payment he’s been stashing for a move to France. The aspirational sidebar allows Gordon-Levitt’s character to indulge in some less than academic French language study that hits the screen with a thud.
If writer-director Rian Johnson (“Brick”) has done any homework, he has spent the lion’s share of it on packaging a movie incapable of living up to its top-heavy casting.
From the opening scene, Joe’s detrimental voice-over narration reduces the storyline to a remedial level. In the future, “time travel is illegal,” Joe tells us. Only a group of dimwitted mobsters are capable of using advanced time-travel technology to their own nefarious ends. Smart people don’t exist in Rian Johnson’s version of the future. The generic criminals do a bustling business burying the bodies of aging loopers in the past where young loopers enter the cycle of self-destruction by killing off their elders. It’s called “closing the loop.” Failing to off your elder version when the time comes is a big no-no for any self-respecting looper. Forget that the gangsters in charge could easily avoid such a polarizing event if they only sent victims back in time to be killed by discrete assassins rather than by their own doppelgŠngers. This glaring loophole is especially significant since a looper sent back in time could theoretically change the course of the future if they survive.
Detail-oriented audiences will have a field day making lists of such narrative inconsistencies. The filmmakers tip their low-budget hand by never showing the much-referred-to future that so many assassins are sent back from. Rian Johnson is no Philip K. Dick. In a story ripe with capacity for some amount of searing social commentary, there is next to none.
Joe gets thrown a curveball when his 30-years-older model (played by Bruce Willis) shows up for assassination. Naturally, Joe does his best not to murder his older self in spite of his vicious boss Abe’s (Jeff Daniels) order to the contrary. Abe’s mob boys are hot on the trail of both Joes. Instead of teaming up to change the future for their life expectancies, the two Joes trade insults in a diner over coffee. The scene is notable for how inferior it is compared to what Hollywood hacks crank out on a weekly basis. Needless to say, Rian Johnson doesn’t make much of Quentin Tarantino knock-offs either.
An unsatisfying subplot involving a single mother (well played by Emily Blunt) and her telepathically gifted but volatile young son unbalances the drama. Older Joe suspects the boy of being a child version of a 22nd century baddie called “the Rainmaker,” who may or may not be such a worrisome force of evil.
He is also hung up on an Asian woman who saved his life and wants young Joe to intercept her murderer when the time comes.
The narrative material doesn’t match the visual effects in “Looper.” From the start, Joe is introduced as a character we can never fully empathize with. He betrays a friend before shuffling off in the direction of a story that further impugns his character as anything other than a narcissist. Even the selfless act Joe commits during his crisis decision comes with a grain of martyrdom. If you can get past plot holes that pass by like highway mile markers, and you can put up with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s weird make-up, then you’re halfway to enjoying a generic genre B-movie. Bon chance. CV