Tuesday, September 25, 2012

By The Skin of Its Teeth

Looper       Final Cut Score: 87%

Of all the high-concept elements in play in Looper, the mind-boggling morph-job to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's face is by far the most perplexing. I spent the first quarter of the film trying to pinpoint precisely which combination of prosthetics was used to turn Gordon-Levitt into a celluloid version of Claude from Grand Theft Auto.

And that first quarter of writer/director Rian Johnson's (Brick) sci-fi highwire act is sensational. Gordon-Levitt is Joe, a titular "looper", a futuristic hit man armed with a futuristic sawed-off shotgun, doing the dirty work for futuristic crime syndicates that exist some 30 years in the future, future.

One slight issue with being a looper, when your services are no longer needed, those futuristic crime syndicates send the future you - the one from 30 years down the road - back in time for execution, with you pulling the trigger. The twisted suicide is called "closing the loop" and while your future fate is sealed, the stash of gold bars strapped across your lifeless future body should provide all the hedonistic pleasures required for the next 30 years before your expiration date.

Get all that? Good, because we are graduating to "letting the loop run", that's when the future you escapes certain death and runs free, simultaneously existing with the current you - AKA the predicament Joe finds himself in for the remainder of Looper. Bruce Willis - the old Joe - popping back in time to set things straight after learning there's a steep price to pay for doing the devil's work.

Drawing influences from Terminator 2 and a shred of the aforementioned GTA, Johnson delivers a film that at first feels organically fresh but less so as it wears on. And does it ever wear on.

After a snappily-paced start revealing the rules of Looper's universe, the film begins to seriously stall out right about when Willis arrives on the scene. A meal shared by the two Joes in a desolate diner drags on and on as the pair discusses the ramifications of their separate - yet selfsame - decisions.

Length isn't the lone matter of contention here, what's up with the casting of Emily Blunt as - wait for it - a midwestern farmer? Sporting strawberry blonde hair and an "Americana" accent, Blunt is badly miscast. With a laundry list of actresses better suited for the role, why pick the Brit aside from name recognition? It's a wholly unnecessary distraction.

Now just as I was all set to hand Looper a "C" for making me shift in my seat entirely too many times, waiting for something to blow my doors off, it happened. An ending that well, blew my doors off. The finish is the cinematic equivalent of David Tyree's Super Bowl catch; a conclusion that miraculously - magnificently - manages to close the final loop with an off-the-Richter-scale stroke of genius. Nicely played Mr. Johnson, nicely played.