When it comes to time-travel stories, it’s best not to get hung up on details. As Joe (Bruce Willis) reminds his younger self (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the trippy sci-fi “Looper,” you’ll just end up sitting in a diner for hours, drawing “diagrams with straws.”
With that in mind, writer/director Rian Johnson (“Brick”) dispenses with the mechanics early. In the 2070s, time travel is invented, and criminals use it to send their enemies back 30 years, where an elite group of assassins will take them out, no questions asked. Joe is one of those assassins, and he’s living the high life until he has to close his “loop” by killing his future self.
For most of his buddies, this is just another, final job — they don’t even realize who they’ve popped until they remove the bag from the corpse’s head. But older Joe has other ideas, and he leads himself on a chase involving a telekenetic child (Pierce Gagnon) who lives on a farm with his mother (Emily Blunt).
Johnson’s script is surprisingly tight for the genre, and he finds creative ways to utilize his premise. One vivid sequence portrays a man’s tortured death by showing its effect on his older self (one finger goes missing, then two … again, don’t try to work out the details).
The final confrontation between the two Joes is all about the significance of a single act, to individuals and the world at large. It’s thought-provoking, if a little simplistic, and presented with the same gripping energy as the action scenes.
Gordon-Levitt looks nothing like Willis, and the weird prosthetics he wears make the problem worse, not better. They’re both very good in the role(s), but it’s never entirely possible to believe they’re the same person. Joe is also the only interesting character in the movie, aside from the little boy, who’s a cross between Carrie and that kid from “The Twilight Zone” who sent people to the cornfield.
Everyone else is just a crime-movie stereotype, from the mob boss (Jeff Daniels) to the kind-hearted prostitute (Piper Perabo). Blunt is singularly miscast, chopping wood and wielding a shotgun like a supermodel. She’s supposed to have been hardened by life in the city and the country, but she always looks like she just got back from a day at the spa.
“Looper” is so fast and intricate, it doesn’t give the audience a chance to worry about any of this. That doesn’t excuse its failings, but it does make them much easier to accept. Johnson knows what he wants you to think about, and he expects you to relax and enjoy the rest. You can draw the diagrams later.‘Looper’ * * *
Rated R | Time: 1:58