At least “Looper” has the courtesy to tell viewers to turn off their brains.
Otherwise, attempting to understand the physics behind a man from the future trying to kill a version of himself from further in the future to stop future-future man from killing someone future man doesn’t want dead but will once he becomes future-future man?
Well, that’s the sort of thing that could cause your skull to collapse in on itself.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of several “loopers” in 2044 Kansas. Time travel hasn’t yet been invented, but when it is, 30 years in the future, criminal syndicates use it to get rid of their victims.
They’ll tie up someone and send him back in time to where Joe or one of his colleagues is waiting to blast them with a blunderbuss. Then, the loopers dispose of a body that, technically, doesn’t exist.
The whole enterprise is so illegal that, if a looper is still alive in 30 years, he’s sent back in time to be killed to remove any trace of the operation. It’s a procedure known as closing the loop.
“This job doesn’t tend to attract the most forward-thinking people,” Joe says in a voice-over.
Before long, Joe’s waiting for his next victim when Future Joe (Bruce Willis) appears in his killing field. Future Joe escapes, putting both his and Joe’s lives — which is technically the same life, or something like that — in jeopardy.
“Looper” offers plenty of sly, post-“Lost” humor early on.
“I don’t wanna talk about time travel,” Future Joe tells Joe, “because if we start, we’re gonna be here all day talkin’ about it, making diagrams with straws.”
This comes not long after Abe (Jeff Daniels), the man sent back in time to oversee the looper program, gives up trying to explain what would happen if someone from the future spends too much time in the past — which is really the present, but whatever — because thinking about “this time travel (expletive) just fries your brain like an egg.”
Writer-director Rian Johnson, who first worked with Gordon-Levitt on 2005’s “Brick,” has some killer ideas.
In 2044, roughly 10 percent of the population has developed telekinesis, which usually just involves guys making quarters float to impress the ladies.
And when something bad happens to the present you, the results to future you seriously one-up the whole disappearing-from-a-photo trick from “Back to the Future.”
But then Future Joe’s true objective is revealed. A secretive criminal known as the Rainmaker has begun ordering mass executions in 2074. Little is known about him or her, until Future Joe is able to narrow in on a handful of people he must kill in 2044 to prevent the Rainmaker’s reign of terror and save the woman Future Joe loves.
After that, Joe seeks refuge on a small farm — where he ends up protecting a young mother (Emily Blunt) and a potential Rainmaker from Future Joe, while hiding out from other loopers — and the rest of the movie plays out like a Western overseen by M. Night Shyamalan.
“Looper” offers Willis his best role in years, and he gives it the necessary depth while throwing off shades of “Pulp Fiction’s” Butch.
And it gives Gordon-Levitt the chance to not be Gordon-Levitt for a while. Wearing prosthetics to alter his lips and nose, he looks distractingly less like a younger version of Willis than the star of a forgettable CW drama.
Although “Looper” has enough ambition for three or four recent releases, its two halves don’t fit together all that well.
The farm scenes drag on, and the ending isn’t nearly as clever as everyone involved seems to think.
But “Looper” is the sort of thing that grows on you in retrospect. The disappointed feeling that likely will accompany you home gets better with time.
Fittingly, you’ll enjoy “Looper” a lot more in the future.
Christopher Lawrence is the film critic for the Las Vegas (NV) Review-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.