(A friend was kind enough to watch the kids the other night, providing us with what's certain to be our last movie for some time, since No. 3 is due any day now. This may be my final review for a while.)
You would think the time-travel concept would be starting to run out of stream. It's been 117 years since "The Time Machine" was published, and the past three decades have been an especially fecund period for finding new twists on the idea (everything from "Back to the Future" and "Terminator" to "Primer" and "Safety Not Guaranteed").
"Looper," the new film from director Rian Johnson, manages to plumb new depths, even with a concept that on its face seems derivative.
The movie centers on a "looper" named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who serves as a hit man for the mob. But he's no ordinary hit man: Joe kills people who are sent back in time (allowing his mob bosses in the future to cleanly dispose of undesirable people). His profession pays well and allows him a degree of comfort in a world that's rapidly unraveling.
He runs into trouble when his latest target turns out to be...himself (played by Bruce Willis, as the 30-years-older Joe). When the young Joe lets the old Joe escape without killing him, it sets a series of events in motion that threatens to destroy his life.
The movie turns out to be about a lot more than time travel, and that's both a good and bad thing. After a fast-paced first act, the film shifts gears and focuses on a farm in Kansas, where Joe finds a beautiful woman (Emily Blunt) and her mysterious son.
"Looper" is set in 2042 (other than the flash-forward scenes, which take place in 2072) and shows a unique vision of the future. Apparently Kansas has found reason to turn one of its cities (Wichita?) into a dense metropolis of ultratall buildings, which is odd because everything around it is still farmland. On the plus side, solar energy has seemingly advanced to the point where cars can be powered by throwing a solar panel the size of a floor mat on the hood.
I won't give away too much of the plot, but the fate of the son soon becomes the central question of "Looper." His dangerous abilities made me think of the "It's a Good Life" episode of "The Twilight Zone," also set on a farm, or perhaps even "Children of the Corn" (though the setting in "Looper" is a sugarcane farm). But clearly he has the potential for good not just evil, and the characters attempt to foster that.
The film's ending left me a little unsatisfied. I was waiting for one final revelation, something transcendent and life-affirming. When the credits rolled, I didn't feel like I'd gotten it.
In fact, the film's resolution was basically the same ending as the director's cut of "The Butterfly Effect," another time-travel movie (but one that I'd only recommend to major fans of the genre). Imagine taking the premise of "It's a Wonderful Life" and turning it on its head. It didn't work in "The Butterfly Effect," and I don't feel like it entirely worked with "Looper."
Still, it's a film with interesting ideas and plenty to say — even on a topic where I thought everything had already been said.
BuboBlog Rating: 3 asterisks (out of 4).