'Looper' provides food for thought

JIM SLOTEK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:39 PM ET

No, time travel doesn't make sense yet, paradoxically speaking. The screenwriter who can unravel that Gordian knot has yet to be born.

But Looper - Rian Johnson's stylish sci-fi action thriller about a hit-man assigned from the future to kill his older self - has a little more imaginative fun with its ramifications than you'll find in your average Terminator movie.

Picture people sending messages to their older selves by carving on their hands, thus creating word-shaped scars on wrinkled hands. Or imagine a middle-aged fugitive who starts losing body parts, a chilling reflection of his younger self being tortured somewhere by his pursuers.

The fast-moving, violent film betrays a whack of classic "genre" influences, including the aforementioned Terminator, Twelve Monkeys, and even, in the last act, The Omen. All of it is wrapped around the intriguingly simple conceit about what happens when you meet yourself.

To that end, the suddenly everywhere Joseph Gordon-Levitt is cast as a young Bruce Willis. After a fair bit of narrative 'splainin' in the opening scene, we discover time travel is an officially illegal reality, being used by organized crime. People marked for assassination are sent 30 years in the past where they can be cleanly and anonymously killed by hit-men known as "Loopers".

There are, as always, huge holes in such a premise - not least of which lies in the crime syndicate's practice of "closing the loop" by having Loopers ultimately kill themselves (the Loopers receive a lifetime supply of payoff after killing a hooded figure that turns out to have been them - their cue that they have three decades to live, but have a good time).

Despite a subplot about a vicious future super criminal who exists as a child today, the dynamic in Looper is basically two-fold. After killing "himself," Young Joe (Levitt) embarks on a lifetime of drug addiction, amoral acts and hedonism, before morphing into a weary Bruce Willis who is "saved" by the love of a good woman in Shanghai (Xu Qing). When the inevitable happens, remorseful Old Joe decides to rewrite the past/future.

Some good actors put what they've got into keeping this premise rolling at full speed. Jeff Daniels plays a dryly witty and ruthless criminal emissary from the future, sort of a branch-plant boss for the whole Looper operation. And Emily Blunt plays a woman hiding out in a farmhouse, who may or may not be the mother of Joe's future.

As for the tug-of-Joes between Levitt and Willis, it's Levitt who ends up doing all the heavy lifting, aping Willis's mannerisms convincingly enough (Willis, who scored real dramatic points in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, basically wears his John McClain-on-the-run face throughout this one).

And despite the business of the plot, Rian Johnson deserves kudos for keeping his directorial eye on the chase. Looper provides some breathtaking moments of action and food for thought, although we'd go easy on the latter. As Daniels' character says, "this time travel s--- can fry your brain like an egg."

(This film is rated 14A)


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