Film throws viewers for a loop

This film image released by Sony Pictures shows Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a scene from the action thriller "Looper." (AP Photo/Sony Pictures Entertainment)



DMG Entertainment

1 hour, 59 minutes

I can’t decide whether the new time travel thriller “Looper,” starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is way smarter than it lets on, or way dumber. Either way, the movie certainly lets fly with crazy action, twists and turns, and crackling dialogue, but I can’t decide if there’s a whole lot more going on under the surface, or if this whole thing is just skin deep.

Joe (Gordon-Levitt), as he explains in the opening scenes of the film, is a looper. This is a kind of mob enforcer, except one with a very specific skill set. “Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but in thirty years, it will be,” he tells us. When it is invented, it is immediately outlawed, meaning that the only people who use it are gangsters from the future. And what they use it for is extermination. When they want to get rid of a body, instead of giving the guy cement shoes, the bad guys tie him up, strap a few plates of silver to his back, and send him back in time, where a looper is waiting to immediately dispatch him. The silver is payment for the looper and the body is disposed of in such a way that no one in the future will ever be able to find it. Easy.

Except it’s not so easy. See, one of the crummy things about being a looper, is that one day you know your loop will be closed. That is, in thirty years or so, you will be nabbed by the bad guys, wrapped up, and sent back in time to be murdered by your younger self. Your younger self is then paid off in gold, and happily lives out the rest of his life, until, of course, he’s nabbed by the bad guys, wrapped up, and sent back in time to be murdered by his younger self. Kind of a crummy job, if you ask me.

Joe is a good looper, and thorough, but wouldn’t you know it, when his number comes up, and it’s time close his own loop, something gets screwed up along the way. His older self turns out to be kind of a badass, and not only kills the guys who were holding him, but manages to travel through time anyway, and disarm the younger version of Joe, before going on the lamb. Old Joe is, appropriately, Bruce Willis, and despite being ticked off at having been shot at, he’s got bigger fish to fry. Mixed up in all of this is Sara, a gritty, independent telepath — did I mention there were telepaths? — who will stop at nothing to project her toddler son, a little boy who may or may not have dark secrets of his own.

Directed by Rian Johnson, “Looper” is definitely more than your run of the mill sci-fi shoot ‘em up. Johnson, known for off-beat, quirky films like “Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom,” does more than simply set up a situation and run the cameras. He creates an entire world for the characters to inhabit. The world of “Looper,” which begins in 2044, seems very similar, yet oddly different somehow. Poverty is rampant, and vagrants have overrun the cities. As far as I could tell, law enforcement had completely disappeared — or at least they play no part in this movie.

This seems like kind of your standard futuristic dystopia, but there are other, stranger details, such as the guns. The loopers use a gun called a blunderbuss, a reference to Revolutionary War-era weapons. It’s a strange kind of a shotgun that looks put together from spare parts and will only fire with accuracy at a range of 15 feet. This all seems very designed, but is never explained. Loopers have a specific place in the hierarchy of criminals, who also appear to be the city administration, as any legitimate public servants are nowhere to be found.

Just above the loopers are the “Gat Men,” who act as patrolmen and investigators, and muscle, if need be. The Gat Men get to carry a gun called a gat, a reference to ‘90’s gangsta rap, I guess. But the gun is nearly as odd as the blunderbuss. It resembles Dirty Harry’s .357 Magnum, but larger and unwieldy, too big really to handle with any finesse. It doesn’t appear to fire any larger bullets, not that it matters since none of the people firing it seem to be able to hit anything farther away than point blank range. This gun also seems very designed, but there’s never any explanation.

These are the kinds of bizarre details that make me think there’s more going on than meets the eye. Is there some kind of time travel paradox going on? Did the world get remade somehow by accidental ventures into the past? Or is this some kind of political statement. Only the criminals have guns, and all the guns seem to be weird and strangely cumbersome. What does that mean? Is it anti-gun, as in this is the way it should be, or pro-gun, as in this is what happens when you let the left-wing write all the gun laws? Or is it nothing, just Rian Johnson’s production department playing with cool visuals?

Probably the latter. “Looper” is fun and action-packed, but somewhat frustrating in the questions it doesn’t answer. I never could decide if this was good writing or lazy writing, but at the very least, it’s entertaining.

Grade: B+

“Looper” is rated R for bloody violence, nudity, and pervasive language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.