[Screen It]


(2012) (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis) (R)

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Sci-Fi/Action: An assassin who's hired to kill victims sent to him via time travel must contend with his next target being himself from thirty years in the future.
It's the mid 21st century and Joe (JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT) is an assassin known as a "looper" who works for organized criminals in a time when a certain portion of the population sports telekinetic powers. Waiting in a prearranged spot, he shoots bound and gagged victims who arrive via time travel sent from thirty years ahead in the future when it's decidedly more difficult to dispose of murdered bodies. Joe is paid handsomely in bars of silver and spends that money on mind-altering drugs and a hooker, Suzie (PIPER PERABO), who he's fond of.

He works for Abe (JEFF DANIELS), a man from the future who keeps a watch over the loopers using a variety of henchmen, including the trigger happy Kid Blue (NOAH SEGAN). Joe knows he'll eventually have his loop closed when a future version of himself will be sent back for him to kill so that Joe can live out the next thirty years before meeting that same fate.

He gets a taste of what happens when a looper doesn't carry through with the directive as his fellow assassin, Seth (PAUL DANO), can't get himself to pull the trigger on his future self who warns of a new ruler in the future known as the Rainmaker who's closing all of the loops. Joe then experiences that himself when his future self -- Old Joe (BRUCE WILLIS) -- arrives to be killed, but isn't bound or gagged. Old Joe manages to avoid being killed and takes off, leaving Joe in a perilous dilemma at the hands of Abe and his goons.

Joe and Old Joe meet to discuss their predicament, with the older version indicating he's desirous of killing the Rainmaker - in boy form -- back here in the past before his goons get the chance to kill Old Joe's wife in the future. With Abe's goons anxious to find and kill him, Old Joe takes off again, leaving it up to Joe to find and stop him. That results in him waiting at a farm house where single mom Sara (EMILY BLUNT) and her young son Cid (PIERCE GAGNON) live. But things aren't exactly as they appear, all of which leads to one tumultuous event after another with the future of various people as well as time itself hanging in the balance.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
I have a love-hate relationship with time travel movies. On the positive side, I've always enjoyed the concept of such temporal travel and the notion of heading forward to see what the future holds, or going back in time to observe historical events, all aware of the related potential pitfalls and/or dangers of heading in either direction.

Hand in hand with all of that, however, are the logistical and logical conundrums that pop up and how such storytellers try to work around them, if at all. Throw in the fact that such issues bedeviled a related screenplay I was writing in the 1990s to the point that I abandoned it, and I'm left with mixed feelings about any such cinematic efforts.

Yes, I'll admit that I experience tinges of jealousy when those sorts of films manage to get made, and each makes me worry that someone will end up using my plot points (thankfully, it's so far so good in that arena). And I hate when filmmakers take the easy way out of the time travel conundrums and simply ignore or brush away such concerns, or when things don't make sense either during the screening or in post-viewing analysis. But I also love the fun that can be had with such efforts and look forward to any creative wrinkles that get added to the mix.

All of which means I wasn't sure how I'd react to "Looper," the latest sci-fi time travel flick where Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an assassin of the mid 21st century who kills people sent back from the future for an "It's as easy as shooting fish in a barrel" homicidal assignment. This is done for criminal types who don't want any identifiable bodies lying about, and being of that no loose ends mindset, they close out the careers of such "loopers" by sending the future version of themselves (in this case, Bruce Willis) back in time to be killed by their younger counterpart.

While that's an interesting twist on the old "what happens if you went back in time and met your father" time travel element, it's also -- to quote Mr. Spock -- highly illogical. After all, why run the risk of the younger self possibly letting the older self go and instead just have an unrelated looper do the deed? And rather than go to all of that effort of letting the assassin live for the next 30 years only to send them back to be killed, why not have another looper off them back in the past/present and avoid those decades of retirement altogether?

Just as he inserts two moments of his characters blowing off the circular paradoxes of time travel (one saying it's too confusing and another saying it simply doesn't matter), writer/director Rian Johnson doesn't dwell on such matters. And the way in which the filmmaker (who also directed Gordon-Levitt in "Brick") crafts everything, such questions likely won't affect most viewers until they start running scenarios through their heads after the end credits roll.

During the flick's nearly two-hour runtime, however, it all goes down fairly easily and sometimes in thrilling and even touching ways. It also changes into something more than what, on the surface, appears will be a cat and mouse type thriller where the young and old versions of the protagonist simply run, hide, chase and fight each other.

The detour and greater depth arrives when young Joe ends up at a farmhouse where a young mom (Emily Blunt) is raising her boy (a good if chilling Pierce Gagnon) who seemingly has a personality disorder of some sort. The looper is there because he believes his older self is searching for the young version of a future leader responsible for his wife's murder and he wants to prevent that from happening (again).

The younger self wants to get rid of his future self so that his boss (Jeff Daniels) and that man's trigger-happy henchman (Noah Segan) don't kill him (which, of course, would prevent him from growing older and then being sent back to be killed by his younger self and so on, but I digress). And since we've seen what the villains do to those who don't off themselves -- in a creative yet illogical scene where an older character starts losing body parts due to his younger self (in the past, but also the current present) being mutilated by the bad guys -- we don't want the same to happen to the protagonist.

With a lesser performer than Gordon-Levitt, the viewer would have a hard time feeling any sympathy toward that character. After all, he's a killer for hire, a drug addict, and a person who turns in his friend so that he doesn't lose any of his retirement stash. But the young actor manages to imbue the character with enough humanity (despite awful make-up designed in hopes of making him resemble Willis but that only ends up being quite distracting) and the plot brings up interesting moral issues that we end up caring about him, particularly once he gets involved with the farm mom and her kid.

While there are problems aplenty with the logic (or lack thereof) of the plot's various elements and devices, I still managed to be caught up in the characters and the story as they played out, and enjoyed the various little twists, touches and moments of creativity even if they don't stand up to the scrutiny of hindsight. It might not be perfect, but "Looper" goes down fairly easily in the moment and thus rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 24, 2012 / Posted September 28, 2012

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