Joseph Gordon-Levitt utterly masters the Bruce Willis squint, where the action hero narrows his eyes, furrows his brow and purses his lips. He gives us a little of the Willis smirk, the one Bruce breaks out when he's about to let-go a whispered threat. Yeah, JGL has that whispered threat thing down, too.
Levitt needs to master All Things Willis for "Looper," in which he plays a time travel-era assassin who discovers that his latest hit is on himself -- the AARP-eligible version of himself.
Loopers are the fellows who, in the future, stand next to the very spot that some poor hoodlum from the future is shipped back to, already bound and hooded. The looper shoots the guy with a short-range shotgun, still called a blunderbuss. And if the looper is smart, he's already got the victim lined up to land on a tarp, to make cleanup a snap.
Joe is such a looper, a favorite of The Boss (Jeff Daniels), a loner who hoards the silver ingots that future crooks use to pay him (strapped to the victim's body), who is addicted to the latest drug -- administered through eyedrops -- and a little too fond of a stripper/hooker (Piper Perabo).
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But a crime boss of the future, nicknamed "The Rain Maker," is sending aged loopers back through time to be executed by their younger selves. Which they dutifully do, even as they realize they now have only X-number of years left to live.
Joe is tipped to the agony of this decision by his nervous pal Seth (Paul Dano). So when his future self (Willis) shows up, Joe is downright conflicted.
"Why don't you do what old men do -- and DIE!"
Imagine a young Bruce Willis blurting that out to the grizzled, bald action-hero Bruce Willis we've all grown to know and adore.
"I remember what you do right after you do it," Old Joe explains to his "self-absorbed and stupid" younger self -- and us.
Botching this job means that Joe Present and Joe Future are on the run from both The Boss's minions and each other. Each Joe wants to stop the other Joe from "ruining my life."
Emily Blunt shows up as a rural Kansas farmer who figures into the story. Children enter into the plot. And things get a lot more complicated, to say the least -- with flashbacks, alternative futures and the like.
What would Einstein say to all this? Or Doc Brown and Marty McFly?
Movies about time travel always present their imponderables -- what sort of future could it be where "disposing of a body is pretty much impossible?" And when we see somebody die in that future, what sort of dilemma are those future-killers facing?
Using silver as a timeless currency makes sense. But ingots are not exactly pocket money, are they?
Writer-director Rian Johnson has concocted a tale with elements of "Terminator" and "Back to the Future," as well as "Jumpers" and "The Omen." It's a science fiction film that gives you a lot of plot to chew on and some genuine moral dilemmas -- about sacrifice, guilt, heinous crimes to protect the greater good and what-not.
The whole thing bogs down on the farm, and at times, figuring out where this clue or that map came from, why this time-jumper loses body parts, one by one, and Old Joe doesn't -- trips it up.
But "Looper" is loads of fun. And when that "Die Hard" reboot comes around, all of Hollywood has this as Joseph Gordon-Levitt's audition for John McClane. Can he say, "Yippee ki-yi-yay?" Don't you know it.