“Looper” makes a movie critic happy for many reasons. At the top of the list: a cast and budget significant enough to potentially make director Rian Johnson (“Brick”) a household name. Why? Let’s learn a thing or two from “Looper” and cut straight to the chase — Johnson’s action/thriller/science-fiction tour de force has more jaw-dropping, what-the-fuck moments than “Inglourious Basterds” and this year’s “Cabin in the Woods” combined.


Quality 16 and Rave

In other words, this movie is good — really good. Not just because it’s so unpretentious and to-the-point that the recent string of mindless superhero movies seem like they’re feeding us fodder instead of food, but also because “Looper” leaves people debating its story in the most “Inception”-esque way since, well, “Inception.”

Screenwriters today forget the Golden Rule of Writing: If you want the audience’s attention, write a solid introduction for your script. “Looper” demands its viewers’ undivided attention right from the get-go. Based initially in 2040s Kansas, the film begins with Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “The Dark Knight Rises”), a looper, waiting for his target to arrive from the future. As Gordon-Levitt’s voice narrates during the opening sequences, time travel won’t be invented until 30 years later and will be quickly outlawed, only to be used by the mob to send targets to the past to be obliterated. Loopers have only one rule: Don’t let your targets escape — even if these targets are their own future selves.

When it’s time for Joe to “close the loop” by killing his future self (Bruce Willis, “Moonrise Kingdom”), he finds that his future self — let’s call him Old Joe — has other plans: To kill the future mob boss, “Rainmaker,” during his childhood. Young Joe lands a list of Old Joe’s suspects and decides to wait for him at one of the marked locations — a farmhouse occupied by Sara (Emily Blunt, “The Five-Year Engagement”) and her ten-year-old son Cid (Pierce Gagnon, “The Crazies”). Through a series of twists and turns that bring Old Joe face-to-face with some of his old pals and girlfriends, we finally realize which child the Rainmaker really is — namely, the extraordinary psychic who can blow people to scraps with just a scream.

There are loopholes in “Looper.” But what time travel movie doesn’t have some? It’s an inevitable side effect of documenting alternative realities. While debates about how changing something in the present could affect the future are sound and just, they’re also inconsequential to the bigger picture: Time traveling is merely an underlying contextual theme that allows Johnson to do some mind-blowing things with this film.

Aside from the plot-gaps, and a somewhat unfulfilling end that leaves you mouthing, “Wait, that’s it?,” this film is pretty damn exciting. Johnson doesn’t dumb down anything. There’s no sympathy in the way Old Joe hunts down his kid suspects or Young Joe blows up every mob worker who gets in his way. The characters’ ruthlessness and over-the-top ballsy actions even occasionally border on hilarity because Johnson’s not trying to be stylish. This isn’t film noir — this is action at its rawest, loudest best.

As for Willis, Gordon-Levitt and Blunt: Needless to say they live up to their reputations and make one heck of a bad-ass team. They play vulnerable people with guns and guts with phenomenal talent (like that’s a big surprise). The surprise however comes from the film’s makeup team, who expertly transform Gordon-Levitt from his usual hipster-cool self to a coldblooded killer.

Forget the loopholes and the abrupt, it-can’t-be-over-already ending — “Looper” is a bucketload of surprises, gunshots and blood-spurting gore. It’s a place where battered, graffitied Hondas meet flying motorbikes. And it’s probably the best time-travel/science-fiction film since “The Terminator.”

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