“Looper” toys with the past, present and future

Time travel has been a staple of science-fiction, given that it opens the spectrum of moral and ethical issues of tinkering with the past to alter the future, along with other concepts such as people getting an opportunity make right an old wrong in their lives. Essentially, it presents the temptation of altering and even cheating fate.

Writer-director Rian Johnson (“Brick”) tackles the time-travel idea with an interesting twist in “Looper”: only the criminal element has access to time travel, and of course uses it in a nasty way. In the 2070s, organized crime has devised a way to dispose of those it wants eliminated. These out-of-luck targets are sent back 30 years in time, where they are greeted by a professional killer, who shoots them and gets rid of the body, thus erasing any evidence this person ever existed.

I know, I know. Do not get too caught up in trying to decipher the logistics of this. Eventually it just becomes a sidebar to the main story in “Looper,” a plot that also can be picked apart if you think about it too much.

So, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has been busy the last few months with “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Premium Rush,” plays Joe, who is a looper. He is paid in silver bars to go to a designated rural area, where a person pops up from the future. Joe blows the person away, disposes of the body and then parties and gets wasted.

The loopers are managed by Abe (Jeff Daniels), who has been transported back in time for this particular management position. Abe is one of those scary guys who speaks softly but has a low tolerance for incompetence and wields a big stick — or in Abe’s case, a hammer.

A big drawback to being a looper is that you know too much about this person-elimination program, which makes you a liability. Thus all loopers are told that sometime down the road, they will be zapped back in time and shot.

Now, here’s where it gets goofy. With this clever method of erasing people, why would those in charge, when dealing with the problem of closing down a looper, opt to send him back to be shot by the younger version of himself? Even the coldest of killers might have pause when they are confronted with the challenge of killing the older, paunchier versions of themselves.

But this is a key element of Johnson’s story. Inevitably, Joe shows up for a job, and yep, you guessed it, the older Joe (Bruce Willis) is the mark. To make it worse for younger Joe, this guy knows what is happening and in fact sent himself back in time because he has a mission.

It seems that in the 2070s a nasty character named the Rain Maker has taken over everything, and instituted a program to wipe out loopers. Old Joe’s young wife (Qing Xu) is killed by accident when the thugs come to round up Joe. Thus Joe is intent on going back 30 years to track down the Rain Maker as a child and end this kid’s life before he becomes such a destructive force.

The two Joes meet in a diner for some macho posturing, and Old Joe reveals his intentions, which puts young Joe in a bind. Not only is he on the run from Abe’s enforcers because he let Old Joe get away, he now feels compelled to foil Old Joe’s plans.

Old Joe has narrowed down the young Rain Maker to three possibilities, including Cid (Pierce Gagnon), the son of a single-mom, Sara (Emily Blunt) who owns a farm, where young Joe stakes out, waiting for his senior self to show up.

In another plot element, Sara has telekinetic abilities, something she passed on gene-wise to Cid, who presents the scariest TK kid since Carrie White.

There is the cringe element here of young boys being targeted by a man capable and willing to kill them.

Johnson does a good job of keeping us guessing just how all this will be resolved.

Gordon-Levitt is excellent at presenting Joe, who learns compassion thanks to a single mother and a little boy. Willis provides the paradox of a man who found redemption later in life and now is desperate to alter things so that his younger self can look forward to more years of true love that the older one would have.

Blunt has some good moments as a mother trying to make up for a past of irresponsible behavior that almost cost her a relationship with her son.

And little Pierce Gagnon is a revelation, a young actor able to be both tender and vulnerable one minute and terrifyingly enraged and powerful the next.

“Looper” is a multi-textured story that dishes up several issues in a thought-provoking and entertaining way.

October birthdays: Fontaine, Lansbury, Ross, Dee, Plowright look beyond 80.

Joan Fontaine, an Oscar winner for “Suspicion” in 1941 who made her screen debut in 1935, celebrates her 95th birthday on Oct. 22.
Some notables in their 80s include: Chuck Berry, 86 on 10/18; Ruby Dee, 88 on 10/27; Lee Grant, 85 on 10/31; Dick Gregory, 80 on 10/12; Glynis Johns (“Mary Poppins”), 89 on 10/5; Angela Lansbury, 87 on 10/26; Roger Moore, 85 on 10/14; Joan Plowright, 83 on 10/28; and Marion Ross, 84 on 10/25.

Milestone birthdays:
40: Eminem (10/17)
50: Joan Cusack (10/11), Esai Morales (10/1), Daphne Zuniga (10/28)
60: Harry Anderson (10/14), Roberto Benigni (10/27), Jeff Goldblum (10/22), Annie Potts (10/28)
70: Britt Eklund (10/6), Annette Funicello (10/22), Bob Hoskins (10/26), Alan Rachins (10/3). David Ogden Stiers (10/31)

Other birthdays:
F. Murray Abraham, 73 on 10/24; Karen Allen, 61 on 10/5; Julie Andrews, 77 on 10/1; Lorraine Bracco, 58 on 10/2; Jackson Browne, 64 on 10/9; Kirk Cameron, 42 on 10/12; Nancy Cartwright, 43 on 10/25; Chevy Chase, 69 on 10/8; Chubby Checker, 71 on 10/3; John Cleese, 73 on 10/27; Sacha Baron Cohen, 41 on 10/13; Peter Coyote, 71 on 10/10.

Matt Damon, 42 on 10/8; Charlie Daniels, 76 on 10/28; Pam Dawber, 61 on 10/18; Catherine Deneuve, 69 on 10/22; Richard Dreyfuss, 65 on 10.29; Zac Efron, 25 on 10/18; Jesse Eisenberg, 29 on 10/5; Carrie Fisher, 56 on 10/21; Dennis Franz, 68 on 10/28; Zach Galifianakis, 43 on 10/1; Harry Hamlin, 61 on 10/30; Paul Hogan, 73 on 10/8; Lauren Holly, 49 on 10/28.

Hugh Jackman, 44 on 10/12; Kate Jackson, 64 on 10/29; Peter Jackson, 51 on 10/31; Spike Jonze, 43 on 10/22; Margot Kidder, 64 on 10/17; Kevin Kline, 65 on 10/24; Jane Krakowski, 44 on 10/11; John Krasinski, 33 on 10/20; Linda Lavin, 75 on 10/15; John Lithgow, 67 on 10/19; Christopher Lloyd, 74 on 10/22; Penny Marshall, 69 on 10/15; Rachel McAdams, 26 on 10/7; Dylan McDermott, 51 on 10/26; Michael McKean, 65 on 10/17; David Morse, 59 on 10/11; Viggo Mortensen, 54 on 10/20; Joe Morton, 65 on 10/18; Dermot Mulroney, 49 on 10/31.

Clive Owen. 48 on 10/3; Katy Perry, 28 on 10/25; Luke Perry, 47 on 10/11; Tom Petty, 62 on 10/20; Joaquin Phoenix, 38 on 10/28; Randy Quaid, 62 on 10/1; Helen Reddy, 71 on 10/25; Ivan Reitman, 66 on 10/26; Ryan Reynolds, 36 on 10/23; Andy Richter, 46 on 10/28; Tim Robbins, 54 on 10/16; Julia Roberts, 45 on 10.28; Tony Roberts, 73 on 10/22; David Lee Roth, 57 on 10/10, Winona Ryder, 41 on 10/29.

Rob Schneider, 49 on 10/31; Liev Schreiber, 45 on 10/4; Seann William Scott, 36 on 10/3; Rufus Sewell, 45 on 10/29; Tony Shalhoub, 59 on 10/9; Elisabeth Shue, 49 on 10/6; Alicia Silverstone, 36 on 10/4; Paul Simon, 71 on 10/13; Jeremy Sisto, 38 on 10/6; Grace Slick, 73 on 10/30; Jaclyn Smith, 65 on 10/26; Snoop Dogg, 41 on 10/20; Suzanne Somers, 66 on 10/16; Sting, 61 on 10/2; Keith Urban, 47 on 10/26; Usher, 34 on 10/14; Jean-Claude Van Damme, 52 on 10/18; Mia Wasikowska, 23 on 10/14; Ken Watanabe, 53 on 10/21; George Wendt, 64 on 10/17; Demond Wilson, 66 on 10/13; Henry Winkler, 67 on 10/30; Kate Winslet, 37 on 10/5; Stephanie Zimbalist, 56 on 10/8.

Classic monsters and laughs via Fathom Events
Fathom Events will be presenting on consecutive nights a look at two classic Universal horror movies and a not-so-classic scary flick laid out to be ripped on.
On Oct. 24, Fathom will be offering big-screen presentations of “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein,” starting at 7 p.m. locally. On Oct. 25, our favorite Mystery Science Theater guys will be back as RiffTrax presents “Birdemic,” with the usual cutting-edge commentary, at 8 p.m.
See fathomevents.com for theaters showing these programs.

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