‘Looper’ — two movies in one about time traveling from 2074 to 2044

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

You’ve doubtless heard of “Brokeback Mountain.”

What about a Brokeback Movie?

That’s a movie where the first half and the second half don’t really fit together. “Fatal Attraction” is a good example: First part, sophisticated morality play, post “Sexual Revolution;” second part, crazy bunny killer.

So is the new sci-fi film, “Looper.”

The set-up is provocative — especially if you don’t think too much about it. Or, as Bruce Willis’s character says, to discourage further examination, unless “You want to spend all day making diagrams with straws.”

Which is as good a way as any to say to an audience, either go with it or go see “Resident Evil: Retribution.”

Willis plays Joe Simmons, who is zapped 30 years back into the past for one reason: to be assassinated. Now, I don’t mean the past in 2012 terms; I mean the past, as in 2044. For Joe (henceforth to be known as Old Joe), the present is 2074, when time travel has been perfected but also outlawed. So the only ones who use it are…outlaws.

Like, say, the Mafia (Nice to know that, along with cockroaches and venereal disease, Wiseguys have such a long shelf life). In other words, this is what they would’ve done with Jimmy Hoffa if he’d lived in 2074.

Sending their disposables back 30 years to be disposed of is the perfect no fuss/no muss Mob hit. The victim is blindfolded, his hands tied behind his back and then recycled back to a designated spot where his killer awaits in 2044.

The catch in “Looper,” as the trailers have already revealed, is that, when Old Joe materializes in 2044 his younger self, Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a Willis nose) is the one waiting to blow him away.

Things don’t go as planned. Old Joe runs for it; Young Joe goes after him. And enforcers dispatched by the Mob’s rep, Abe (Jeff Daniels in another sly supporting turn), go after Young Joe for blowing the job.

This is the movie’s first half — an arresting, what-tha’???, time-turning picture that brings to mind “Blade Runner” and “The Terminator” series.

But then, The Two Joes’ paths diverge. Old Joe runs around trying to eliminate a boy who will grow up to be a monster (it’s the old, if you could’ve killed Hitler in grammar school scenario — familiar, but almost always effective). Young Joe dives into a cornfield and emerges, well, not at Kevin Costner’s house (If you build it…).

Instead he discovers a similarly charming, somewhat rundown farmhouse where single mom Emily Blunt lives with her little boy (Pierce Gagnon, respectably creepy).

And now we’re into the second half — or the second movie, if you prefer — in which Young Joe, settles in with them, while constantly on alert for either Old Joe or Abe’s killers. What he’s not looking for is the terror inside that old farmhouse.

Borrowing from a classic “Twilight Zone” episode about a child with dangerous powers and a terrific but little-seen movie, “The Shout,” starring Alan Bates and John Hurt (Netflix it…not that they’ll have it…) “Looper” gets itself into a sci-fi tangle of trying too many things. Maybe, those diagram straws weren’t such a bad idea.

The two stories are tied together in a tingly way by the end. But the disparity in style and plotlines suggest a certain slackness on the part of director Rian Johnson (he previously worked with Gordon-Levitt on the cult hit, “Brick.”).

Still, even when “Looper” goes a little, well loopy, it bristles with energy and cinematic savvy. The only boring parts are the chases and fights that have looped-the-loop through thousands of films we’ve already seen.

And it’s interesting how 2012 has suddenly become the Year of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Last year, it was Ryan Gosling everywhere you looked. In “Drive,” in “The Ides of March,” in “Crazy, Stupid Love.” Now we have Gordon-Levitt, whom I used to think of as the “indie” Gosling (that’s a compliment), all over the place. In “Looper,” in “The Dark Knight Rises,” in “Premium Rush.”

Guess he’s gone commercial. Lucky us.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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