Looper, an obstreperously entertaining, bullet-and attitude-ridden science-fiction pastiche, opens in a futuristic world that looks and sounds paradoxically out of the past. Set in 2044, in a dystopia with Turner Classic Movies flavour, it puts a spin on the familiar figure of the existentially troubled gun for hire while leaving a layer of dust on many of the other genre fundamentals it plays with. Some of it you’ve seen and heard before, intentionally so, though it adds a weird wrinkle: an attempt to transform Joseph Gordon-Levitt, his nose prosthetically bobbed and a smirk surfing his thinned upper lip, into the wisecracking Bruce Willis of the Moonlighting years.
The ostensible reason for Gordon-Levitt’s extreme makeover is that he and Willis are playing the same contract killer, Joe, at different ages. A looper, the young Joe works for an outfit that exists 30 years beyond 2044, where time travel exists but is illegal. Whenever the outfit wants to dispose of a “problem,” it sends the problem with a hood over his head into the past where a looper is waiting with a gun to blow him to smithereens.
The hook — you can almost hear the original movie pitch it’s so tidy — is that every so often the outfit sends back an older looper, who’s unknowingly killed by his younger self, which is how the 2044 Joe stares down his middle-aged counterpart.
It isn’t a happy meeting, but the writer and director Rian Johnson makes it a largely diverting one, filled with wit, smashing edits and showy, at times distracting allusions that reflect his cleverness like little mirrors. Slamming genre cheap thrills together with high-art aspirations, Johnson spins a fast-moving entertainment out of a setup that could have been cooked up by the science-fiction writer Philip K Dick and was undoubtedly influenced by Chris Marker’s cinematic touchstone from 1962, La Jetée, in which scientists in a post-apocalyptic world send, as the film puts it, “emissaries into time to call past and future to the rescue of the present”. The middle-aged Joe sets off on a similar mission, trying to persuade his younger self to go along.
It’s a juicy premise, ripe for the squeezing, though it takes a while to get over Joe’s looking less like a young Willis and more like Keanu Reeves with a dash of Marlon Brando doing Japanese minstrel for The Teahouse of the August Moon.
Johnson throws a lot at the screen, blasted corpses included, yet little here is as initially transfixing as Gordon-Levitt’s mug. The makeover is a distracting miscalculation and a curious one given that, for his last movie, The Brothers Bloom, Johnson cast the non look-alikes Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo in the title roles. Even so, after the bodies and plot twists pile up, and after you’ve scoped out the Bruce-ified downward curve of Gordon-Levitt’s nose and laughed when he worriedly touches his receding hairline, the movie starts getting its groove on.
There’s a lot to get past, including an antediluvian divide between hard-charging men and decorative dames, including a stripper, Suzie (Piper Perabo), who works at a club called La Belle Aurore, the name of the Paris joint where Humphrey Bogart once met Ingrid Bergman. As time goes by, indeed, or as Johnson prefers, loops the loop. (Using some metaphysical shorthand he also alludes to the cosmic cup of coffee brewed by Jean-Luc Godard in Two or Three Things I Know About Her.) Things, or rather the gender politics, improve once Joe, fleeing the outfit — with his older self nearby — takes refuge at a farmhouse belonging to Sara (an appealing Emily Blunt), a single mom with a strange little boy, Cid (an excellent Pierce Gagnon). There, Johnson settles into something deeper, swaps the banter for real feelings and wins you over.
Foreigners bad, Americans good, box office busy
You’d think that after what happened in the 2009 film Taken, Bryan, Lenore and Kim would think twice about vacationing outside the continental United States. But in Taken 2 they go abroad for some family bonding, and — wouldn’t you know it? — kidnappings again ensue, followed by killings.
In the first movie Kim (Maggie Grace) was abducted by Albanian sex traffickers. This time relatives of those traffickers want vengeance for those killed during the one-man rescue conducted by her father, Bryan (Liam Neeson), a former CIA operative. And their targets are Bryan and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), Kim’s mother.
The family makes it easy for the villains by taking an impromptu trip to Istanbul, where Bryan and Lenore are promptly snatched. (Albanian crime lords have a long reach and many connections in passport offices and such.) It falls to Kim to initiate their rescue. Doing so requires her to, among other things, set off hand grenades in the middle of the city, something that causes surprisingly little concern among the populace.
What follows seems like a non-stop car and foot chase, with Albanian after Albanian falling victim to Bryan’s remarkable aim and hand-fighting skills.
Foreigners bad, Americans good, box office busy.