Time Travel is a messy business. Even when a movie's narrative seems to be as precision-perfect as a Swiss watch, there will always be an undersize cog or missing gear tooth somewhere that eventually makes the whole thing stop ticking. Looper (2012, 1 hr., 58 mins., R) spurts out paradoxes like busted springs, its loops circumscribing gaping plot holes. But despite falling into the same illogicalities as every other time-travel flick, the smart and stylish film has more going on than simply making sure A lines up with B.
Writer-director Rian Johnson, who first worked with his star Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the Hammett-flavored high school noir Brick, revels in the possibilities of temporal leaping. Gordon-Levitt, uncanny and unrecognizable under face-altering makeup, plays a ''looper,'' a hitman in the future who works for a crime syndicate killing people sent back in time from a still-further future. He ultimately finds himself at odds with, well, himself in the form of an older, if not wiser, version played by Bruce Willis. Emily Blunt has a pivotal role as a single mom with a secret and on the EXTRAS, she joins Gordon-Levitt and Johnson for a lively commentary.
The film's premise is markedly inventive, and Johnson spends a lot of time making his universe seem lived-in and believable, but he's not just concerned with whiz-bang what-ifs. The showdown of selves illuminates just how little Gordon-Levitt's character has changed over the intervening years, stuck as he is in a feedback loop of drug use and violence despite his pipe dream of moving to Europe. The retro trench coats and firearms also suggest a sort of eternal recurrence, and as Looper's plot gets more complex, its central question simplifies: If we can't fix our mistakes, can we at least make sure we don't repeat the same ones over and over again? B+