Time travel is like meth to many writers. The plot gimmick has a powerful addictive draw despite, more often than not, it resulting in a slow, painful death.
Rian Johnson gave into the attraction and uses time travel in his new action feature, "Looper." The story is about a future where murders are so hard to commit that victims are sent 30 years into the past where hit men kill them and dispose of the bodies. It's a profitable life for Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) until he has to kill his future self.
Head hurt? It might be the fumes from this time-travel concoction. Stick with it, your head will clear.
Johnson's script doesn't dwell on the time travel elements. Instead, it focuses on the relationships that emerge between these close encounters of the clock kind. The most interesting is Joe's connection to Sara (Emily Blunt), a single mother living on a remote farm with her special son. Joe's presence in their lives shifts both her timeline and his own.
Some of the more interesting moments come when young Joe meets old Joe (Bruce Willis). The pair share an identical history but soon realize that all they know can be changed with one alternative decision. Their discussions don't offer clear answers, but they give enough info to hold back the tide of uncertainty that could unnecessarily distract from the film.
Johnson was smart in casting Gordon-Levitt, Willis and Blunt, who make a complicated script more accessible through down-to-earth performances. Had any one of the three not taken the story seriously, the film would have been consumed by the plot gimmick.
Along with casting, Johnson's made some interesting decisions with the film's look. This is neither an apocalyptic nor a utopian vision of the near future. Johnson's opted to go for a world that still holds some familiarity with only hints of a world to come.
The only problem with the film is the side effects of a time travel story -- even when handled with such thought and sincerity. If you allow yourself to ponder certain elements -- like why Johnson creates parallel time lines with no explanation -- then the film collapses on itself.
It's best to step back and look at the story's central questions: What are the elements that shape our lives and what influence do others have on us? That's where the film is its strongest and why you should make time to see it.
"Looper," rated R for violence, language, nudity, drug content. Stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels. Directed by Rian Johnson. Running time: 112 minutes. Grade: B- Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.