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‘Looper’ a fresh spin on sci-fi action

Article Published: Oct. 4, 2012 | Modified: Oct. 10, 2012
‘Looper’ a fresh spin on sci-fi action

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in 'Looper.'

The only argument I ever had with my college roommate involved “Back to the Future.”

Needless to say, the energy exerted during an alcohol-fueled debate concerning time travel’s impact on the space-time continuum could probably have been used elsewhere, say, class, but this was “Back to the Future,” by golly, and Doc Brown clearly explained the linear nature of time.

We eventually agreed to disagree, but it’s still a touchy subject. And it’s a subject the incredibly original sci-fi action film, “Looper,” deftly tackles. “It fries the mind,” a character says, whereas another explains it’s better to just not overthink it – otherwise we’d be here 12 hours with diagrams and charts. Been there.

“Looper” is one of the most engaging mindbenders since Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” – sharply directed, cleverly written and rich in character and atmosphere. Director Rian Johnson (“Brick”), who also wrote the screenplay, makes an approachable film that’s both thought-provoking, easily accessible and totally engrossing. And most satisfyingly, in this era of 3-D remakes, reboots and reworkings of classic ’70s and ’80s television, it’s completely original.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“The Dark Knight Rises”) plays Joe, who promptly describes the future in which he lives. The year is 2044, and time travel will be invented 30 years from then. In 2074, time traveling is understandably illegal, but it’s also exploited by the mob. Since it’s ever more difficult to dispose of bodies in that distant future, mobsters kidnap their targets and send them back in time, where a hitman, like Joe, awaits, ready to pull the trigger.

These hired guns dispose of the bodies, collect their silver and live a privileged life in an underprivileged and economically ravaged world, waiting for their next assignment. They’re called loopers and for a reason. To erase any trace of their time-dabbling activities, the future bosses eventually “close their loops” by sending the loopers’ future selves back for execution at their own, albeit younger, hands.

When Joe encounters his future self (Bruce Willis, “Pulp Fiction”), he hesitates for a split second, which gives Old Joe just enough time to escape. Knowing the penalty for missing a mark is less than forgiving, Joe must track down and take out his future self, who has an agenda of his own.

To reveal any more would ruin the film’s assortment of unnerving, didn’t-see-that-coming twists, all of which shed more light on these grim characters, rather than simply shock the audience.

“Looper” is noir-ish in the sense that its characters are entrenched in a gray area, not necessarily good but not entirely evil. We have a protagonist who’s far from the “good guy” archetype, which sometimes makes the proceedings less than comfortable, as the film tackles rather heavy themes of regret and redemption.

Gordon-Levitt is superb as Joe, and the makeup effects that give him the genuine appearance of a young Bruce Willis are stunning. But it’s not just the makeup and prosthetics that convince. Gordon-Levitt has nailed Willis’s expressions and mannerisms down to a tee, as any die-hard fan of “Die Hard” has probably attempted, though maybe not as successfully, in the past. At the same time, he makes the character his own, as to where it seems Willis is playing an older version of him.

As for Willis, it’s one of his more nuanced performances to date. This isn’t action-hero Willis, even though there’s plenty of that to go around. There’s something deeper in play with his character than the gun-toting wisecracker of movies past.

Rounding out the cast is an exceptional Emily Blunt (“The Five-Year Engagement”) as a single mother caught up in the chase, while Jeff Daniels (HBO’s “The Newsroom”) is disarmingly menacing as Joe’s boss.

Despite its blunt, violent action and all the mind-bending goings-on, “Looper” remains, at its heart, a character-driven film that effectively engages its audience – and will continue to do so in repeat viewings – time and time again.

“Looper,” rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit

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