I love it when movies over shoot my expectations. It's even better when you are prepped for a film by someone who reprsents the studio that made it by them saying, "this is good but it's not great." Okay, that's cool. A sci-fi film where Bruce Willis kicks more ass and Joseph Gordon-Levitt tries to convince us once again that he's an 80 lbs. tough guy. That's about what I expected. Two hours later, when the credits started to roll, my expectations were blown away so much so that I was picking pieces of them off the wall of the theater.
Sure, Looper is all the things I expected it to be; gritty, futuristic, action-packed, violent, slick, but it was so, so much more. Writer/Director Rian Johnson (Brick) has made a film that is multiple genres and so thickly layered that it evokes visions that blend Blade Runner with Inception. There is so much to take in with this film that writing it into a script seems daunting. It's safe to begin with the fact that it's a time travel story that doesn't get bogged down in how or makes you try to figure out how certain events are possible without changing the future or past until your brain collapses in on itself. That alone is a feat worthy of notice since I can't recall any other film about time travel that doesn't do that.
Looper is a story about how organized crime in the future sends people they want killed into the past to be murdered by guys called Loopers. But what happens when that person sent back is you? That's the dilema Gordon-Levitt has when his older self, played by Willis, looks him in the eyes in the past. It's actually hard to tell who is performing who, since the make-up and voice cadence that Gordon-Levitt does is so flawlessly Willis that he out "Bruce Willises" Bruce Willis. It's a performance that once again places him on a shelf that should also don an Oscar statue.
Is the movie horribly violent? You bet your exploding chest (inside joke) it is! But Johnson is such a skilled filmmaker that it's what you don't see or how he chooses to show the violence that avoids it while making it more disturbing. There is a torture scene in it that is shot in such a unique and, dare I say, beautiful way that the sequence could be a stand-alone short film.
It's really hard to pick out a flaw in the film. Even when it's in its slowest moments it doesn't stall or linger there too long. Noirs are often easy to be silly and dry with their deadpan voiceovers that talk to an audience like they're children, but Looper does it in a subtle and effective way. Not to mention the fact that some things need to be explained in movies this richly textured with characters and backstories that a tv or comic book series could be made of it.
Another shocking gift this movie gives is the discovery of 10-year-old Pierce Gagnon who plays the son of Emily Blunt. This child performs with the controlled skill that Dakota Fanning or Haley Joel Osment did at that age. He bottles humor, horror and tear-inducing drama and releases them all at just the right moments of the film. Watching the scenes with him in them are that of the sweetest icing on a perfectly baked cake.
This film is one of the best of the year so far and every bit as amazing as The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. This deserves to even be noticed by The Academy but sadly it will join the ranks of other sci-fi films that get overlooked and brushed off simply because of its genre. But I fear that maybe I've talked Looper up so much that you'll go into seeing it the exact opposite that I did. So allow me to go back in time and tell you that the film is "good but not great" before you read this review. Hopefully now you'll love it just as much as I did. Looper (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A+
It seems like every genre and subgenre will eventually jump the shark. They all build with success and then eventually get to a point where they're no longer effective and destroy the whole genre. Usually that happens over the course of years and years. For a Good Time, Call is a jump the shark moment and it's a real shame because it comes at the expense of the adult comedy with the all-female lead cast.
For a Good Time, Call stars Lauren Miller (50/50) and Ari Graynor (The Sitter, Date Night) as two college frenemies that are forced to live together in New York City to afford an awesome apartment. When things don't turn out the way they hope, they choose to turn to running their own phone sex operation. They have a gay friend played by Justin Long (Drag Me to Hell, Going the Distance), who is an absolutely stereotypical character that almost verges on offensive.
Normally in movies like this, hilarity ensues but not in this case. In fact, everything pans out exactly the way you'd expect it to with absolutely nothing funny happening. It's painful to watch it play out because you spend the whole time searching for something humorous. It was almost as if Miller, who also wrote it, was hoping that seeing pretty girls talk dirty would be shocking and funny enough to coast 90 minutes on. It isn't and it's almost pathetic to see. I'm not even sure how anyone could've found this script funny. So how did it get made? Great question and I think I know how.
The film has three scenes that are funny and the reason why is because they feature cameos from Kevin Smith, Seth Rogen and Ken Marino (Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten). Now, it's easy to accuse me of being chauvinistic and saying the only time the movie is funny is when men show up. I assure you that that's not the case. These are three seasoned comedic pros and Marino especially is a genius. The scenes last less than five minutes but are funny enough to make you remember them. Back to my explanation as to how this movie got made; it relates to these scenes. All three of them are friends of Miller and Graynor; Miller is even married to Rogen. The whole film screams of friends helping friends and it's awful because of it.
By the time the movie is over, even those with virginal ears are numb to hearing dirty words. And those of us that are well-steeped in dirty words and foul jokes are leaving the theater as fast as we can to watch our copies of Bridesmaids in hopes that we would still hang on to the all-female adult comedy a little longer before is dies its untimely and torturous death. For a Good Time, Call (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: D-