**** (out of four)
Personally, I prefer sci-fi with a relatively low quantity of sci.
Writer-director Rian Johnson seems to feel the same. In his spectacular "Looper" Johnson creates a futuristic world and connects the dots as needed, but several times in the film a character says something like, "I don't want to talk about time travel [bleep]," referencing the confusion that can come from exaggerated attempts at iron-clad logic.
That said, the universe of "Looper" offers imagination and purpose, rather than a thinly conceived world of shiny objects and bizarre technology. (Looking at you, "In Time.") It's 2044, and Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt of Johnson's exceptional "Brick") kills for a living. He doesn't have to ask why or even know who he's offing. Joe is a looper. He waits for people 30 years in the future, in which time travel exists but became illegal instantly, to send his assignments back to him. They appear on a sheet in a field, Joe pulls the trigger. Easy.
Well, things get more difficult when a mysterious figure known as the Rainmaker tries to close Joe's loop--meaning Joe is assigned to shoot the future version of himself, releasing him from his contract with 30 years to enjoy--but the future Joe (Bruce Willis) kicks younger Joe's ass and runs. That will probably happen when you grow up to be Bruce Willis. What results goes somewhere unexpected and unexpectedly moving. In the cloak of a futuristic thriller, Johnson crafts a story packed with intelligence and feeling about the desire to change fate and the universal search for approval and support.
The filmmaker's sense of humor keeps the morally intricate "Looper" smart; his heart prevents it from feeling cocky. His continually emerging style makes the movie alternately gorgeous and disturbing. Meanwhile the cast, which also includes Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels, kills. Gordon-Levitt once again does a lot even when he's seemingly not doing much. Joe's uncomfortable with today and afraid what tomorrow will bring. He's just looking for someone to put before himself, to love and be loved. The film itself deserves widespread adoration.
"Looper" opens Sept. 28.
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