Arriving with huge hype and a pre-release Tomatometer score in the 90s, Rian Johnson’s “Looper” is one of the year’s most disappointing movies. It’s got a few good ideas, but ultimately adds up to yet another rehash of the first “Terminator” film, revisiting the time travel genre without bringing a whole lot new to the table.
Set in the mid-21st century, which with a couple of exceptions doesn’t look a whole lot different from today, “Looper”‘s plot concerns a group of gangsters in the 2070s who dispose of their targets by sending them 30 years back in the future to be killed by specialized assassins known as “loopers.” Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one such looper, and he’s eventually confronted by a future version of himself (Bruce Willis). Willis, Terminator-like, seeking to kill the boy who will grow up to become the Keyser-Soze-esque mythical criminal who will one day murder his wife.
The film’s structure is not unlike that of the TV series The Walking Dead- the first half is mostly action-oriented, but after that it slows down considerably, with long sequences set on a farm, with a kid who’s more of a threat than you thought he was.
There are some well-staged action sequences here and there, but where the film is ultimately disappointing is that it doesn’t really do anything creative with time travel or its paradoxes. At one point, a character explains away every potential time travel paradox with “it’s all a fog.”
(No, the movie is not a biopic of former New York Mets pitcher Braden Looper. It’s also not be confused with “Disney’s ‘The Kid,’” a 2000 family film that was also about Bruce Willis interacting with a younger version of himself.)
There are quite a few plot holes too, starting with, “If Willis wants to prevent the murder of his wife, and has access to a time machine, why doesn’t he just travel back to 20 minutes ago, and tell her to not be in the room when the men come to kill her?”
The performances are pretty strong across the board. Gordon-Levitt, the older he gets, is more and more in command as an actor while Willis, despite his advancing age gets to do some more of his old “Die Hard” brawling.
Emily Blunt shines in Sarah Connor role, waving an ax and completely believable as both a mother and a rural American lumberjack. It must be said, that much like Amy Adams in “The Fighter,” Blunt is ten times more interesting as an actress when playing white-trash than her usual prim-and-proper screen persona.
As the kid, Pierce Gagnon, makes quite a creepy impression. And Jeff Daniels has a fun role as Joe’s boss; he’s a much more appealing actor when not spouting smug Aaron Sorkin dialogue.
Johnson previously directed the well-regarded “Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom,” neither of which I particularly loved, although he’s directed some of the better episodes of Breaking Bad. In “Looper,” he stages the action very well. But the problems here are mostly at the script level- the story just isn’t as interesting as it should be.
The movie that “Looper” most negatively compares to is “Inception,” if only because of its recency and the presence of Gordon-Levitt. “Inception”‘s plot had a pretty complex set of rules, but it told its story clearly and creatively, with awesome visuals to boot. “Looper” can’t quite manage either.