|Imagine a future America in which mobsters use time travel to zap anyone on their hit list back 30 years to 2044.
There an assassin, or looper, like Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is waiting to blast his hooded, bound victim away with a sawed-off “blunderbuss” shotgun.
And boom, just like that, the unlucky sap is gone with one thunderous shot – not only dead, but completely vanished from future, like he never existed, never to return.
Loopers live a pretty high life.
They’re well paid and they party hard. Joe stashes his gold payola bars, gets a buzz with hallucinogenic eye drops and has a thing for one particular high-end hooker, played by Piper Perabo.
A few freakish folks, curious byproducts of decades of mutation, have powers of telekinesis – an ability to make small objects, like coins, float in the air by the power of the mind.
It’s a good trick, but apparently not good for much else.
It’s all part of the edgy swirl of “Loopers,” the crazy circus in which Joe circulates.
But there’s a price to pay. Often a looper is assigned to erase his own lifetime of criminal tracks. That’s called “closing the loop.”
He just pulls the trigger, incinerates the anonymous body, then lives out the next 30 years unaware – until the day he finds himself on the other end of his own blunderbuss.
When Joe gets the call to close his loop, it should be just another one-and-done hit. But all of a sudden there’s Bruce Willis as future Joe, somehow de-hooded and unshackled and staring into a pair of eyes that look a lot like his own.
And then “old” Joe gets away – a time-warping slip-up for which we’ve already seen Joe’s boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels), has little tolerance.
It turns out future Joe has a grudge to settle, a warning, and a name on a hit list of his own.
Present Joe doesn’t have much time to think about that, however, because he’s plotting how he’s going to find the man he’ll grow up to be and kill him before a small army of Abe’s loopers come to wipe out both of them.
Everything leads to a rural farmhouse and its occupants, a neo-pioneer mom (Emily Blunt) and her young son (an electrifying Pierce Gagnon), and a spectacular showdown with some socko surprises.
Writer-director Rian Johnson, who also worked with Gordon-Levitt in his 2005 movie “Brick,” wrote and directed “The Brothers Bloom” and directed a couple of episodes of TV’s “Breaking Bad,” creates a vision of the future that meshes fanciful, new-age high-tech with grungy squalor.
Airborne motorcycles zip through trash-strewn, graffiti-smeared streets, zigzagging around tattered vagrants pushing shopping carts.
A gleaming high-rise metropolis of vertical skyscraper spires thrust into the sky, surrounded by bleak, bare farmland.
Movies that deal with time travel usually have some real paradox pickles to deal with, especially when characters meet their own selves coming and going.
“Loopers” addresses some of those questions head-on in a terrific scene in which old Joe and young Joe discuss what old Joe “remembers” about the things that young Joe does any given moment in the present.
But don’t spend too much time thinking about it – because, as Abe wearily notes earlier, “This time-travel crap just fries your brain like an egg.”
2012 has a few more months to go, but this multi-layered mind bender already stands out as one of the most ambitious, most original, most crazily inventive flicks the year – a thought-provoking, head-rattling ride that could easily become a new sci-fi classic.
“Looper” has a lot going on underneath its shoot-‘em-up surface, and it lays out plenty to think about as it races along and after its credits roll, about the decisions we make, what we’re willing to do for the people we love, and what makes us who we turn out to be.