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Posted: October 26, 2012

Dave on film: A sci-fi thriller buried in a cornfield

"Looper" has a promising start, then bogs down

Dave Taylor

In the closing years of this century, organized crime syndicates have a problem with the standard tactic of threatening to kill someone for not cooperating because it appears that every person on Earth is tracked and can't die without leaving vital information about their death behind.

By a lucky coincidence, however, it turns out that time travel has been invented, and while it quickly becomes illegal, it does offer a rather neat solution for the elimination of these undesireables: send 'em into the past, where bad things can happen without leaving those awkward traces. Better yet, have people poised and ready to kill them as soon as they pop out of the future, "loopers".

The main character is a Looper named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who exists 30 years in the past (2044) who is supplied with specific details of when others will be sent back, where they'll be at the precise moment they appear, and what to do: kill them immediately upon arrival. Conveniently, each has silver bars attached to their bodies, meaning that once they're dead, the looper gets paid. Disposing of the body's easy too as Joe works in a rural area.

Like any other job with the mob, loopers get snuffed out for a variety of reasons. To retire a looper, the mobster simply sends the older self back through the time portal with a hood over their head: the younger self then kills the older self without realizing ("closing the loop"), then figures out what's happened and knows that they have 30 years to live, after which point their death has already happened ("will already happen"?). There's a huge paradox here, but let's skip it, along with the question of why sending someone back in time defeats the tracking system but that, say, encasing them in concrete doesn't.

Joe's older self (played by Bruce Willis) comes back after the younger version of him learns that a mysterious character called The Rainmaker is eliminating all loopers as part of a one-man drive to take over the syndicate. Joe doesn't shoot his older self, creating the situation where younger Joe is chasing older Joe, even as older Joe tries desperately to remember what happened 30 years early and how he can avoid capture.

Mob boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) isn't happy when young Joe fails to kill old Joe, so a group of assassins joins the chaos. Younger Joe finds refuge in a rural farm house in the middle of nowhere, a house that looks exactly like one from Close Encounters. The tough head of the farm is Sara (Emily Blunt), who is raising creepy little boy Cid (Pierce Gagnon) singlehandedly while trying to fight off the homeless guys who apparently keep wandering through her fields.

Older Joe (Bruce Willis) takes Younger Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) hostage.

The first act of the film is interesting and the explanation of all the standard time travel paradoxes almost sold me on the story. Once we get to the farm, however, Loopers becomes Children of the Corn 2044, with a little bit of the daft Signs mixed in for good measure. It's as if they forgot that it was supposed to be a sci-fi thriller and the middle portion of the film, as it slowly reveals a Carrie-like twist, procedes too slowly.

The action revs up again near the end, but by that point, the plodding cornfield scenes had caused me to lose interest, even with the final twist, when the surprising and provocative relationship between the characters - and the identity of The Rainmaker -- are explained. Ultimately, I left feeling that there was a good sci-fi action film buried under a lack of pacing and focus.

I'll give this one a tentative thumbs up anyway, though, because it is an interesting story and the end was thought-provoking. I admit, however, that I couldn't quite wrap my head around Jeff Daniels as the super-tough mob boss because I'm such an aficionado of his hit HBO series The Newsroom, but Gordon-Levitt and Willis are both good. Blunt is quasi-tough and quasi-vulnerable and certainly pretty to look at.

Dave Taylor has been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Along the way he’s become a nationally recognized expert on technology, an accomplished writer, and award-winning public speaker and blogger. You can find his film writing at  www.DaveOnFilm.com and follow his film commentary on Twitter at @FilmBuzz or just email him at taylor@intuitive.com.

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