Here's my favorite scene in Rian Johnson's wild, woolly, smart and ultra-cool "Looper."
Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are at a diner table. Gordon-Levitt doesn't look quite like the Gordon-Levitt we know - the terrifically versatile actor you probably saw first in "Third Rock from the Sun" and who's been everything from a cancer sufferer to a fleeing bike messenger ever since. His face has been significantly altered. That's because Willis is supposed to be the older, future version of himself. The way they got the two actors to look like the older and younger versions of themselves was to do the major adjustment work on Gordon-Levitt, not Willis.
Superstar privileges for Willis, no doubt, even if his "Die Hard" and "Sixth Sense" superstardom days are well past.
But here they are together again for the first time having a chat far down the road in our new millennium.
You might expect at the very least a certain sort of fond brotherhood to creep into the confrontation of an older fellow with his younger self. But that's not the style of the ever-surprising "Looper."
Gordon-Levitt, an assassin in a future time-traveling world, has been put into action to ply his trade on the fractious older version of himself who has, it seems, become troublesome to the powers-that-be. So his future self has been sent back into the past to encounter the murderous "looper" who's been put on his case.
They aren't at all fond of each other, in fact. "Why don't you do what old men do and die?" sneers the young killer. "Boy" is how the older fellow addresses the kid whose heedless young self he remembers only too well.
When the subject turns to the kid's future, the old guy recommends he go to China. Not in the kid's plans. He wants to go to France. "I'm from the future," glowers his older Willis self. "YOU SHOULD GO TO CHINA."
If you think you have the time to ponder all the comic whys and wherefores of this sci-fi confrontation with one's self, forget it. This is an action film - an extremely intricate and quick-tempered one that's pedal-to-the-metal at least half the time.
"Loopers," you see, are what the assassins are called whose targets travel back in time. Their boss is a malevolently cynical and powerful old guy named Abe who sends their appointed victims back to rendezvous and secures their assassins' services. Whereupon their targets suddenly appear on a rug apparently found just for that purpose and are blown to kingdom come by their appointed hired assassins.
Abe is played by Jeff Daniels, who has become, if you ask me, one of those actors whose very presence in a movie is living proof the director knows his or her trade (another is Julianne Moore).
All of this hired knocking off is done with a future gun called a "gat," one of the movie's delightfully wacked-out tributes to the hard-boiled noir mysteries and crime novels of the 1930s through '50s. Future gat-wielding marauders are called "gat-men."
You'd think that would be enough invention and plot for any movie, but writer-director Johnson is so inventive he has oodles more for you - some of it involving a single mom played by Emily Blunt, whose young son presents Willis with this knotty problem for an assassin: Do you have what it takes to knock off a little boy when you know the mature monster he turns into 30 years hence? (If you were transported to the right time and place in Austria, could you push innocent Adolf Schickelgruber down a flight of stairs to make sure that he never grew up to be Adolf Hitler?)
It isn't as if we're unfamiliar with stylish, brainy sci-fi action movies in our new millennium. It's just that this one is recklessly enjoyable without a tell-tale hint of overinflated critical and evaluative hooey that somehow wound up with "Inception" being nauseatingly (and wrongly) compared to Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino, two of the greatest writers of the last 50 years.
This thing seems to add a little bit of "Blade Runner" to a lot of "The Terminator" and any other pastoral, small-town menace number you can think of including, I suppose, Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt."
It has enough style and brains for three ordinary movies at other times of the year, but with all the goodies fall brings, there may even be those who take such fare for granted.
Best not to, I think.
3 and 1/2 stars
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels
Director: Rian Johnson
Running time: 118 minutes
Rating: R for much violence and rough language.
The Lowdown: A time-traveling assassin squares off against the homicidal older version of himself.