By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — You won’t find a blooper anywhere in Looper, despite the fact that this intricate time-travel-plotted science fiction thriller constantly challenges you to keep everything straight.

It’s an ambitious undertaking that manages to stimulate even confused viewers with the energy generated by ideas flying every which way.

The titular protagonist is a futuristic mob assassin who kills targets who have been sent back from the future.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the looper, 25-year-old Joe Simmons, a hit man/ executioner/ exterminator in Kansas City in 2042 (a year in which time travel has not yet been invented), armed with a blunderbuss.

(3½ stars out of 4)

The hired gun has been instructed to kill his target, whoever it is -– even if it’s a future him — the moment he appears, tied up and hooded, in the past.

In this case, Joe will be “closing his loop,” although he doesn’t know it yet, by killing and then disposing of one final target: himself, but a 30-years-older version played by Bruce Willis.

This older Joe has ben sent back from a future (the year 2072) when it’s nearly impossible to dispose of a body.  So criminals are utilizing outlawed time travel by sending their potential victims back in time to be murdered and made to disappear.

But just as the startled Joe recognizes his target as a future version of himself, Joe the Elder overcomes him and escapes.

And when Joe the Younger commences a hunt to track down the other Joe, his unhappy employers, led by criminal overlord Jeff Daniels, come after him to close his loop themselves.

Joe then crosses paths with shotgun-wielding single mother Emily Blunt and her son (the remarkable Pierce Gagnon), whose connection to Joe’s plight is yet to be revealed, as the film then moves in what at the time feels like a whole new direction.

But it’s nothing of the kind: everything eventually connects in a strongly satisfying way.

Writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) wrote the script for Gordon-Levitt, who also starred in Brick. Johnson has not only created a realistically grounded and convincing alternate universe — aided by extensive voiceover narration by Gordon-Levitt that helps to keep the story moderately accessible –- but worked the usual time travel paradoxes into his thoughtful screenplay about a dystopian future.

His narrative, with its embedded twists and turns, is both absorbing and unpredictable, triggered by a premise that begs the intriguing fantasy question: what would it be like talking to an older version of yourself?

That’s exactly what happens in perhaps the film’s most resonant scene, as the two Joes share a cup of joe in a diner. It’s here that the movie comes to fascinating, fully realized life.

As for the climax, it’s emotionally shattering in a manner not necessarily characteristic of action flicks.

Did I just call this an action flick?  Well, it it’s that too, and action flicks don’t come any smarter or more inventive. Moreover, rarely if ever do they boast this strong an emotional undercurrent.

Gordon-Levitt (virtually unrecognizable, as he’s been converted into a younger incarnation of Willis, compliments of prosthetics, contact lenses, and makeup) also served as an executive producer.  He expertly channels Willis, and both of them shine under Johnson’s direction, as do Blunt, Daniels, and Gagnon.

So we’ll age 3½ stars out of 4 for a nifty, noirish sci-fi twister. Looper is pleasingly loopy and anything but droopy.

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