The main problem I have reviewing Rian Johnson’s Looper is that the most interesting discussion about the film can only be had with others who have seen it. The film diverges brilliantly from its marketing premise about half way through and the surprise is so precious — and adds even more fascinating layers — that to discuss it here would be the absolute definition of the word spoiler. Suffice to say: if you like intelligent science fiction you should make immediate plans to view Looper and allow time afterwards to digest with other people. It changes, the more you talk about it.
The premise is enticing enough. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a Looper, a specialised hitman with the job of rubbing out inconveniences from the future who are sent back in time by the mob so they can be cleanly disposed of. Every now and then a Looper’s future self is sent back in order that another layer of evidence is removed. This is called “Closing the Loop” and the Looper then knows he has 30 years left to enjoy life before he’ll end up as his own victim.
One sunny morning, in a Kansas cornfield Mr Gordon-Levitt is confronted by his own future self in the form of Bruce Willis. He hesitates for a moment and blows the deal. Willis escapes and Gordon-Levitt is forced to hunt himself down and close the loop, all the while learning some uncomfortable truths about his own life and the dog eat dog world he’s living in.
Despite its many strengths, Looper loses half a star for featuring Paul Dano — one of my least favourite performers — and for the relatively inelegant incorporation of a key plot element that I can’t talk about here. These are minor infractions though, for a film that proves big budget and high concept doesn’t have to mean dumber than a sack of hammers.
If you are wondering where all the dumb went, you can find most of it in Pitch Perfect in which college teams attempt to win a prestigious “international” acapella singing competition. Serious wannabe record producer and glum victim of a parental divorce, Anna Kendrick (Twilight, Up in the Air) unwillingly joins the all-girl Bellas — one of four Barden University acapella groups — and over a year transforms them from boring and conservative to boring and mildly adventurous. I have a soft spot for a well arranged acapella cover version — and there are a few lip-synched offerings here — but they’re just not enough to save a film that fundamentally hates all its characters.
Anyone looking for evidence of Hollywood’s continuing casual racism should just create a little Pitch Perfect graph showing each character’s diversion from default preppy white American default, cross-referenced to their supposed weirdness (fat, lesbian, possible serial killer, humourless roommate) and see how the dots cluster. The film also relies so heavily on Aussie Rebel Wilson’s self-deprecating fat jokes that I hope she’s being paid a big fat bonus.
If you want to see fat jokes done well you should check out Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted in which Jada Pinkett Smith’s dainty hippo Gloria tiptoes around in a tutu. For one, there are only a couple of them and for two — like almost every other gag in the film — they are actually funny. Rollicking along for a very welcome 93 minutes, M3: EMW may well be the best of the trilogy. Can I call them a trilogy? After all, it’s still the same story, they’re all still trying to get back to Central Park Zoo from their new home on the African savannah.
The penguins have taken all the gold and jewels and flown to Monte Carlo to gamble their way to even more fame and fortune. When they’ve been gone for too long Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria decide to travel to the South of France to find out what’s up, get back all the money and somehow use it to get back Stateside. One of the things I love about these films is that they don’t waste time explaining how any of this is going to happen — they just decide and in the next scene they are snorkelling in to Monte Carlo harbour.
Chased out of town by a ferocious anti-animal cop played by Frances McDormand, our gang hide with a failing circus and in the process discover their true misson in life. Genuinely fun for all the family, I found myself wishing that “normal” Stiller films and Rock films were this well crafted and this funny. Also worth noting: pay the 3D premium, it’s really worth it this time.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 October, 2012.