“Looper” Movie Review

     There's a scene early in Rian Johnson's new film "Looper" where a ruthless mobster chastises the story's hero because he shows no originality in the way he dresses and accuses him of copying from old movies.  Perhaps that was Johnson's way of telling the audience he knows he's borrowing from other films to create his premise and he's good with it, just like his main character.  I regularly downgrade new films for their lack of originality and the quality of "Looper" won't change that.  Indeed, "Looper" pushes the Sci-Fi genre to new heights with an outstanding cast and a thought provoking story, but the result lacks the originality of "Inception" and conjures up too many images of "X-Men" and "The Terminator".

     Johnson's story brings us to the year 2044, which is really not too far in the future.  If "Looper" excels in any one place, it's that of the film's production design.  No one really knows what the future holds or how far along technology will really be, but too many films rely on copying or being influenced by the futuristic cityscapes of "Blade Runner" or the post apocalyptic ruins of "The Road Warrior" when dreaming up the environment the characters will occupy. Johnson decides to go with a "not much has changed" feel as the cities in "Looper" look like they do today and the characters still drive Ford F-150s, though they appear to have some kind of fuel modification.  There are a few nifty gadgets, but for the most part, society doesn't appear to have progressed significantly.

     It is said that 30 years into the future, time travel has been invented but is illegal.  Mobsters who control this technology have sent one of their own from the future back to 2044 to oversee the Looper program.  This involves a number of individuals employed for the purpose of killing people the mob sends back in time which, in turn, eliminates their existence all together.  The Looper awaits his target in remote and deserted areas and when they suddenly appear, they are bound and their face is covered.  The Looper simply shoots them at point blank range and disposes of the body.  For this, they are paid in bars of pure silver which is affixed to the back of the target.

     The one catch to all of this is if at some point the people in the future decide to "close  the loop", they will send the older self of the Looper as a target.  Once killed, the Looper will find out he has just shot his older self when he discovers the mob has sent gold bars instead of silver bars.  As the story goes, the now retired Looper can live a life of riches, though he knows in 30 years he will meet his demise.  The main character in the film, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), quips "This line of work doesn't attract many forward thinkers."

     And so the inevitable occurs as Joe is faced with killing his future self, played by Bruce Willis, who arrives without the standard bag over his head and manages to escape before being killed.  In a later meeting, older Joe tells younger Joe how the future has been taken over by a powerful mobster called the Rainmaker.  Older Joe's intention is to find the now 5 year old child who will later become the Rainmaker and kill him so as to avoid his own demise as well as the demise of his future wife.  It is at this point in the film where the similarities to other films begin.

     Joe has narrowed the Rainmaker's identity to three possible 5 year old children.  Older Joe sends the younger to a remote farm outside the city to kill one of them, while he hunts down the other two within the city.  The whole idea of this plays exactly like the Terminator's hunt of multiple Sara Connor's found in the white pages in that film.  The plot also includes the fact that 10% of the population is telekinetic or "TK" for short.  This also plays an important role in the story and harks to this being a prequel to the "X-Men" prequel "X-Men: First Class" even though it's not.  For much of the films second half, I sat there wondering why filmmakers of today feel the need to consistently steal from other movies as they see fit.  Did Johnson think audiences wouldn't notice?

     That being said, "Looper" is entertaining and excels in both dialogue and the interplay between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Willis.  Johnson succeeds in unveiling key plot points at exactly the right time which will leave you in awe as the developments in the third act are truly stunning.  The overall look and feel of "Looper" reminded me of the gritty, violent texture of Paul Verhoeven's "Robocop", depicting a rough future ahead.  Only in "Looper", a very powerful force is calling the shots 30 years into the future and crossing the mob means having your entire existence erased for good.  As a writer and director, Johnson appears to have had his coming out party with "Looper", even if he's been aided by the ghost of movies past.  It's now clear what his influences are, so next time perhaps he can use his talents to create something that will stand on its own. GRADE: B-