The near universal critical acclaim for 'Looper' is something I'm having a hard time fathoming. I suppose we haven't seen a great sci-fi thriller in such a long time, that as soon as a mediocre to average flick such as this one comes along, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, practically calling it a masterpiece!
My first problem with 'Looper' is the overall concept. A crime syndicate in the future (2074)wants to dispose of its victims by sending them 30 years back into the past and have them disposed of by hit men, who they pay with bars of silver. Once these hit men (the loopers) live their lives for thirty years, the syndicate decides to dispose of them by sending them back to 2044, where they'll be disposed of, sometimes even by their younger selves.
It's explained that in the future bodies are 'tagged' so by sending them back in time, they cannot be traced. But why can't the syndicate send their victims in the present immediately back to 65 million B.C. where they would probably be immediately eaten by a dinosaur or other prehistoric animal, thus preventing the time-line from being tampered with? And by cutting out the middlemen (i.e. the loopers) in this way, the syndicate can keep all the profits for themselves.
Once we're introduced to the novelty of the how the looper scheme operates, the novelty soon wears off. We see Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) traveling to the cornfield and then performing executions one too many times. Finally, there's a plot twist: fellow looper Seth appears at Joe's apartment, explaining that his 30 year old self from the future appears in the cornfield and he's unable to finish the job. Abe, the enforcer from the future, forces Joe to betray Seth, who's tortured and his alter ego from the future is hunted down. You might ask what this has to do with time travel or science-fiction. Actually nothing--it's simply all action-thriller at this point in time in the script.
Soon, Joe finds himself in the same position as Seth. His 30 year old future self (Bruce Willis) appears but manages to prevent younger Joe from doing him in. In a rather derivative idea borrowed from the 'Terminator' series, Willis must dispose of a child who will one day grow up to be the 'Rainmaker', the sinister figure in the future who is now bent on eliminating all the loopers.
It might have been interesting had we seen what this Rainmaker character looked and acted like in the future, but that never occurs. We're asked to be content with meeting little Cid, our future Rainmaker, who has telekinetic powers coupled with a severe anger management problem. One is immediately reminded of Billy Mumy in the Season 3 Twilight Zone episode, "It's a Good Life", who plays a mutant who terrifies adults by 'wishing them away to the cornfield'. So the second half of 'Looper' feels much more like fantasy-horror than Sci-fi action thriller.
The meeting between the younger and older Joes in the diner is perhaps the most interesting scene in the film as it underscores the contrast between the more impulsive younger self with the more seasoned, experienced older one. Unfortunately, there is hardly any additional interaction between the two altar egos, with older Joe stalking off to blow away Abe and his crew of malevolent meanies. In true Bruce Willis fashion, the aging 'Die Hard' legend, is up to his old tricks, by machine-gunning most of the bad guys, sans Kid Blue, who appears out of nowhere on his flying motorcycle and immediately gets himself killed, instead of Joe, who is his intended target.
If the Looper second half feels a bit slower than the first, that's because director Rian Johnson spends a little too much time out on the farm, with Joe courting Sara (Emily Blunt). Although there's a feeling that we've seen this before, the ending proves to be passable as we finally have something to feel good about. Younger Joe sacrifices himself, preventing older Joe from killing Sara. He does this after he's able to foresee that Cid, growing up as the Rainmaker, will hold a perpetual grudge due to the murder of his mother and will take it out on all of humanity (including all the loopers) in the future.
Unfortunately, Joe's sacrifice, is not enough to make either young Joe or older Joe, likable. Younger Joe, before he takes his own life, is a criminal and a drug addict and older Joe, is responsible for murdering the second child on his list of three potential Rainmakers. In terms of a sympathetic protagonists, there's little to like here at all.
'Looper' is also unable to score points with its look at the dystopian future. One feels that one is simply viewing a second hand set from 'Robocop'--in that film, 'Old Detroit' looks remarkably similar to Looper's Kansas City of 2044 including the grimy 'futuristic' cars and emphasis on vagrancy as a national blight.
The performances in Looper are all acceptable, with an honorable mention going to little Pierce Gagnon as Cid, who manages to handle a number of complicated lines and take direction in a fashion way above his chronological age.
In the end, Looper proves only mildly interesting. While some of the action sequences are entertaining, the sci-fi premise is not developed into something clever enough to deserve all the the accolades that have been heaped upon it to date.
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