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Time-traveling 'Looper' comes full circle

10:42 PM, Sep. 27, 2012
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Piper Perabo appears in a scene from the motion picture 'Looper.' (Gannett, Alan Markfield/Tristar Pictures/File) / GANNETT
Joseph Gordon-Levitt appears in a scene from the motion picture 'Looper.' (Gannett, Alan Markfield/Tristar Pictures/File) / GANNETT

‘Looper’

Star rating:★ ★ ★
Rated: R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, front, and Paul Dano star in 'Looper.' / TRISTAR PICTURES

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Given the time-travel aspects of a movie like “Looper,” it could have been easy to get caught up in the story-chasing-its-own-tail aspects, bogged down in whether it all really makes sense upon further inspection.

First off, um, it’s a movie. About time travel. Rigorous realism might not be a requirement here. Second, director-writer Rian Johnson wisely pays more attention to the characters than the sci-fi details. Not that he ignores them; as these things go, it seems like the pieces of the puzzle fit.

But we care more about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character than we do whether the rules of the Butterfly Effect are strictly followed. Bruce Willis is also good, in the same role.

Huh? Same role? See time-travel, above.

In 2074 time travel has been achieved. It is also quickly outlawed, given all the opportunity to mess with the future (which is somebody’s present). And you know what they say: When time travel is outlawed, only outlaws will use time travel. Or something like that.

And they do, for a specific purpose. An unseen mob boss called the Rainmaker uses it to send people he needs killed back to 2044, where hired killers called “loopers” stand waiting with a blunderbuss ready to blow the victims away as soon as they appear. Thus, in the future, the victim never even existed.

It’s a lucrative job, but there is one problem: Eventually the loopers inevitably have to kill the future version of themselves. They don’t know it, usually, till the job is done. It’s called closing the loop, and it sets the clock ticking on the rest of the looper’s life.

Most loopers accept this. But occasionally their future self will escape, which causes all sorts of problems. They are hunted down ruthlessly. It isn’t pretty.

Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a looper, stashing away money so he can eventually move to France. There is a funny bit in which his boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels), sent back by the Rainmaker from 2074 to run things and who is as friendly as he is cold-blooded, tries to convince Joe he should go to China instead. Nope, Joe insists. France. “Look, I’m from the future,” Abe says. “Go to China.”

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Eventually, of course, Joe must close the loop. His future self, played by Willis, arrives for assassination without the hood the victims usually wear, recognition flashes in their eyes, and in that moment of hesitation, future Joe gets away. Present-day Joe knows he has to catch and kill him; of course, future Joe knows this, too, and doesn’t plan on letting that happen.

Besides, the future Joe has work to do. Operating on a few clues about what little is known about the Rainmaker, future Joe wants to find him and kill him, to prevent him from ever making it to 2074. That the Rainmaker would be a little boy in 2044 doesn’t phase future Joe.

While chasing future Joe, present-day Joe also has to run from Abe and his goons. He hides out at a farmhouse where Sara (Emily Blunt) is raising her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon), who has a more-pronounced version of the psychic power some people have developed (including his mom).

The money scene, not surprisingly, is when the two Joes meet, sitting across from one another at a diner. Gordon-Levitt and Willis look nothing alike, of course, but with some prosthetic work and blue contacts, Johnson manages to make it work for the most part. It’s strange at first, because you can’t quite figure out what’s different about Gordon-Levitt’s appearance, especially in close-ups. But it’s not so distracting as to take you out of the story.

“Looper” requires your attention, though in an enjoyable way. Gordon-Levitt has been so terrific for a while now that he’s become a magnetic presence; Willis is also on a nice streak, not as strong here as in “Moonrise Kingdom,” but still quite good.

Johnson’s story has some nice twists; it, too, closes the loop in surprising and satisfying fashion. The best advice is to not overthink “Looper.” Just sit back and enjoy it.

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