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A time-travelling thrill-ride with pretzel logic

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Abe (Jeff Daniels), a crime kingpin from the future, nicely summarizes the trouble with incorporating time travel into your science-fiction movie: "This time-travel crap just fries your brain like a egg."

Abe thus glosses over the complexities of that particular plot device and signals the audience that they should do likewise. As Mystery Science Theatre once advised in its opening theme song: "Repeat to yourself: It's just a show. I should really just relax."

Even taking into account its sometimes lax attitude to logic, Looper still brings considerable ingenuity into its future-noir concept. Set in a grimy, lawless near-future, the movie's unlikely hero is Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a utilitarian hitman called a looper, whose job is to kill designated victims and dispose of their bodies. The twist is that the victims are sent back in time from 30 years in his future, after time travel has been invented but is still strictly illegal. (Wouldn't it be a more useful criminal enterprise to send someone back into the past to employ their foreknowledge for immense profit? Oh, right, I should really just relax.)

Joe's life is a soul-destroying cycle of drugs, prostitutes and execution, until he notices that loopers are killing their future selves in what is basically a twisted retirement ceremony. When one of Joe's fellow loopers Seth (Paul Dano) fails to carry out the task of executing his older incarnation, the outcome is, um, unpleasant. (In this particular plot thread, Looper dips into the realm of chilling horror... as long as you don't think too hard about it.)

Inevitably, Joe is faced with the task of killing his older self (Bruce Willis), but old Joe proves to be a wily son of a gun and succeeds in escaping. The double chase is on: Young Joe chases Old Joe. Young Joe is chased by his criminal confederates. And Old Joe is on a mission of his own, attempting to eliminate a future threat, a menacing, powerful figure known as "the Rainmaker." Think The Terminator without the robotics.

The pursuit brings Young Joe to stake out the farm of Sara (Emily Blunt), a former party girl now living in a shabby rural abode raising a particularly intense little boy called Cid (Pierce Gagnon). At this point, things take a turn for the truly weird.

Gordon-Levitt, cosmetically altered to resemble the handsome bulldog mug of Willis, reunites with writer-director Rian Johnson after their excellent high school shamus movie Brick.

The makeup doesn't do Gordon-Levitt any favours: He looks about as natural as one of reality TV's Real Housewives.

But the actor surprises anyway, especially in his interactions with his older self. They hate each other, you see. Older Joe despises the younger's short-sighted commitment to cheap pleasure. Younger Joe seems to consider his older self a major inconvenience but a living breathing memento mori, a reminder of his own mortality. ("Why don't you do what old men do and die?")

That dynamic is pretty interesting, and it's one of the things that gives the film a kick that ultimately transcends its sketchy logistics.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Movie review

Looper

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis

Grant Park, Kildonan Place, Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne

14A

118 minutes

3 1/2 stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2012 D4

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