Looker (1981)

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Films that accurately predict the future have a problem – when viewed after that future has happened, they can seem quite quaint in a way. The fear about the monstrous events that could come to pass becomes nervous laughter when we’re living in a world even worse than the dystopia it predicts. We had this with the Max Headroom movie, and now we see it in “Looker”, the second Michael Crichton near-future movie we’ve reviewed recently after the great “Runaway”.

Image is everything in this world. Albert Finney, a pleasingly lumpy and middle-aged leading man (he’d have been in his mid-40s when this was filmed) is plastic surgeon Dr Larry Roberts, who seems a little troubled by the already beautiful women who want almost microscopic changes made; but, he reasons, if he doesn’t do it then someone less skilled than him will. The models he’s worked on start dying in mysterious circumstances, plus the hefty moustachioed fella, known as “Moustache Man” in the credits, and James Coburn as the head of the mysterious company Digital Matrix, are related somehow.

Much like “Runaway”, the movie discusses what happens when humans are taken out of processes they were essential to before- in this case, modelling. Digital Matrix has perfected perfect digital replicas of human beings, and can program them to appear in adverts, which combined with the LOOKER software (Light Ocular-Oriented Kinetic Emotive Responses), which hypnotises people for a few moments (and can be turned into a gun) making their adverts dangerously powerful.

Looker

So, the cops think Dr Larry killed the models, Dr Larry and new girlfriend Cindy (another model) are investigating Digital Matrix, and Moustache Man is trying to stop them. What’s fun is seeing how lax security was for these sort of operations back in the early 80s, and how easily people could just stroll in. They’d have been fried by a special remote-fired LOOKER gun 5 feet inside the door in 2015. There’s quite a lot of similarly “huh?” moments of sloppy plotting too, relying on Finney not realising he’d climbed into a private security vehicle and not a police car for example…as a further example, most released versions of the film don’t include the explanation for why the models are actually being killed, which leaves the ending rather unsatisfying.

But if you remember “Looker” at all, you’ll remember the amazing final battle, set in the Digital Matrix studio, where Finney, Moustache Man and James Coburn fight in and around their commercial sets – the clever thing being they’re on the sets while they’re being demonstrated to investors in another room. They just think they’re having a fight, but the viewers can see the perfect digital recreations all around them, so there’s a dead body laid across a table as the oblivious digital actors talk about cereal. It’s a fantastic visual and works perfectly – best bit in the film (if you ignore the logic of why the company that can create perfect digital people needs to build the physical sets for them to appear on).

Some of the more interesting concepts and ideas are just tossed off, like the TV addiction of Cindy’s parents; or the very obvious secondary use of the LOOKER gun as a rape device. Crichton isn’t the strongest director in the world, but he does have that pulp novelist’s eye for a fast-paced story. Interesting actors, too – Moustache Man was christened “Selleck 2” by the group of us watching, until we checked him out and discovered, amazingly, that he was Tom Selleck’s roommate in college. Imagine the moustache-based shenanigans those two got up to! Plus Cindy is an excellent, strong, central female character.

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It’s a prescient film, and while it really could have done with someone checking the film for logic and plot holes before release, it’s worth a watch.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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