Hollywood has a difficult relationship with science fiction. Whether they're translating classic sci-fi stories into brainless action movies or too caught up in the otherworldly details there's always something they can't seem to get right about the imaginative genre.
Looper defies the odds by fleshing out a unique future world while honing in on a specific story with real people at the center — a balance that defined works by greats like Bradbury Asimov and Dick. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper an assassin for the mob bosses of the future who use illegal time travel to send back their targets for disposal. It's an easy lucrative life — one that affords him a party lifestyle of fancy cars and drops (drugs taken through the eye) albeit with the added knowledge of a definite grisly end. Eventually the mob "closes the loop" on its employees finding the Looper in the future and sending them back to be offed by… themselves. When it's Joe's turn to end his own life he's outsmarted his future self (Bruce Willis) escaping Joe's grasp. Driven to fulfill his duties as a Looper Joe goes on the hunt to kill himself.
Director Rian Johnson's Kansas City of 2044 feels appropriately lived in and extended from present day. When Joe's not blasting people away shrouded by the stalks of a cornfield he's dining on steak and eggs at a local diner. It's only the casual presence of hovercycles mutant telekinetics and the occasional visitor from the future that would give away the action of Looper isn't happening today. The realism gives Joe and the metropolis around him a necessary grit — there is danger and violence and pain in this world and when Johnson rouses up an action sequence there's something on the line.
Looper's greatest flaw is that it steps away from the confrontation between Young and Old Joe sending the two in different directions as they pursue answers to the film's spoilerific MacGuffin. On a farm away from the city Young Joe crosses paths with single mother Sara (Emily Blunt) who may hold the key to what Old Joe needs to survive. After being introduced to an ensemble of delightfully wicked characters — including Looper coordinator Abe (Jeff Daniels) Young Joe's sleazy coworker Seth (Paul Dano) and hotshot marksman Kid Blue (Noah Sagan) — plus Young Joe's stripper with a heart of gold confidant Suzie (Piper Perabo) Looper takes a sharp left turn leaving most of the cast in the dust. The interesting sci-fi mosaic slows down and enters a new chapter and it's rarely as engrossing as the first half.
When Willis and Gordon-Levitt are at odds Looper is simply magic. Nathan Johnson's industrial score pounds away as the two fight to stay alive all while grappling with the implications that come with glimpsing into your own future. One riveting sequence follows the timeline that played out before Old Joe tinkered with the space-time continuum a roller coaster through the years after the events of the film that see Gordon-Levitt evolve into Willis. The montage is a playground for Johnson's visual style. He never misses a beat.
For sci-fi nuts Looper corrects the past with an understanding of what makes the genre more than just an array of tropes and iconography. There are shaded characters duking it out in Looper's chaotic web of time travel logic and while their arcs fizzle out without much pay off they're a joy to watch.
What do you think? Tell Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!
August 29, 2003 11:06am EST
Jeepers Creepers which was released in 2001 established some basic facts about the winged monster the most important being that it eats every 23rd spring for 23 days. This sequel however is not set in 2024 but on the last of the 23 days and parallels the events of the first film on the dreaded East 9 Highway in Poho County: On the same stretch of road a bus carrying high school students returning home from a championship game become stranded when two tires on the vehicle blow out. It's not an accident but the work of the Creeper (Jonathan Breck) who then returns to the crippled bus to feast on its passengers. After the driver and coaches get picked off the kids like savory sardines in a tin box are left to fend for themselves. The only clue they have as to what's going on is through cheerleader Minxie (Nicki Lynn Aycox) who has a dream in which Darry (Justin Long)--the lead character from the first film--warns her of the Creepers intentions. The group's only salvation is a local farmer (Ray Wise) looking to avenge his son's demise at the hands of the Creeper. Fraught with fright flick clichés Jeepers Creepers 2 is not as intelligent as the first and the elements that made the original so compelling--the suspense drama and the emotional investment in its characters--are definitely lacking in this sequel.
Jeepers Creepers 2 follows a busload of basketball players and cheerleaders as well as a farmer and his son in a concurrent storyline. The problem is there are so many characters here that none of them ever get a chance to fully develop. As the film opens attention is focused on Jack Taggert (Ray Wise) as the Creeper snatches his son in a cornfield. As an actor with great range Wise best known for his stint as Leland Palmer in David Lynch's cult series Twin Peaks isn't taken full advantage of here. He's bitter about the loss of his son but the movie gets that across to the audience by intermittently showing Wise's character frantically crafting a giant spear gun. But because the film doesn't devote enough time to the character we don't share his hatred for the Creeper. Breck reprises his role here as the winged beast and if the film spawns into a successful horror movie franchise could gain cult stardom as the Creeper. Because the Creeper is more prominent than in the first film Breck gets a chance to play with the character a little more and even infuses a bit of personality into the monster. The cast of teenage characters including Aycox Lena Caldwell and Garikayi Mutambirwa all give respectable performances but sadly get lost in the mix and never become anything more than disposable targets.
When it was released in 2001 director Victor Salva's Jeepers Creepers grossed $37.9 million at the box office--commercial success for a small horror genre flick. It had a lot going for it especially compared to most slasher pics; a good story with an even more intriguing villain but its appeal rested in Salva's visual approach. The director used subtle effects to mount suspense including what he describes as a "Hitchcock reveal " where the audience is given details that the characters aren't like a shot of the Creeper in a car's rearview mirror. But in Jeepers Creepers 2 Salva overuses this effect and it becomes almost irritating. What's more the tension that came with delaying the Creepers reveal in the first film is now gone. Moviegoers see him in the first scene followed by longer glimpses with each exposure--and the more we see of him the less scary he becomes. This film does have a few things going for it one of them being Bennett Salvay's musical score. Salva does not drown the film in pyrotechnics and screeching sound effects but instead uses the musical compositions to convey the mood of the entire production. In one scene Salva provides the audience with a bird's-eye-view of the group of teens running to safety across a vast field and accompanied by the heightened score resemble a herd of wildebeest on the run. But while the film is visually interesting it ultimately fails to get the audience to care for its whole host of characters making their fate and the action inconsequential.