Director Rian Johnson’s (“The Brothers Bloom,” “Breaking Bad”) first foray into sci-fi received near unanimous praise at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year, but the cut shown at TIFF must have been a much more polished version of the film. What arrived in theaters this past weekend looks like it should have been left on the cutting room floor.
“Looper” takes place in the dystopian future of 2044, where the country is wracked by overpopulation and organized crime. A unique segment of criminals are known as loopers. These contract killers are used to assassinate people sent back in time from even farther in the future. When a looper’s contract is up, the mob sends that looper’s future counterpart back, head covered, for an unnecessarily complicated suicide. When Joe (Joseph-Gordon Levitt, “The Dark Knight Rises”) fails to slay his anachronistic analogue (Bruce Willis, “Die Hard”), he must track himself down before the mob finds one of him. Older Joe has a mission of his own, however, with his sights set on snuffing out a future crime lord while still a child in 2044.
The entire conceit of this film is a gaping plot hole (or perhaps in this case, a wormhole). Why would the mob not only trust the loopers to kill themselves, but tell them about it in advance? That’s right; anyone who becomes a looper knowingly agrees to a death sentence thirty years in the future. Why does the mob even tell them this? Why doesn’t the mob send the doppelgangers of each looper to another looper, instead of to themselves? Not that any of these specifics matter past the first act anyway, as the movie jarringly shifts its focus onto a mother-and-son pair of telekinetics and their potential connection to Joe’s future.
While Rian Johnson’s direction is fine and Gordon-Levitt and Willis do what they can with what they’re given, basically everything else in the movie is markedly subpar. It is Johnson’s screenplay especially that brings this movie to a surprisingly low level of quality. In addition to the aforementioned logical inconsistencies, the film is filled with generic and forgettable dialogue. Furthermore, there are virtually no likable characters in the movie, as everyone is either a selfish criminal or just plain annoying. Admittedly, it does have a couple of interesting elements, such as the disfigurement of someone in the past affecting their time-displaced version, or how Older Joe finds his past self by the new memories he was forming.
The hardened-killer-protecting-broken-family story is already overused, and the nonsensical sci-fi veneer added in “Looper” doesn’t really do anything to distinguish it from other inferior entries like “Elektra” or “Punisher: War Zone.” The only thing that sets “Looper” apart is how something so objectively bad can be so well-received.