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Looker (1981)

July 22nd, 2010 · 24 Comments

There is many a genre picture released in the early eighties to universal shrugs that went on to become a recognized classic. Not so much LOOKER, MICHAEL CRICHTON’s unjustly forgotten 1981 prophetic skewering of both television advertising and the siren call of evasive physical perfection. The movie undeniably has its blond moments and some major structural issues but it also spills a handbag full of fascinating notions on the floor and if you bend with it a bit, it’s quirky fun and anything but superficial.

Dare I say that LOOKER is just the type of movie that should be remade? Its blemishes are so prominent they could be nip/tucked with ease and its concept is more relevant now than ever. Many of the technological advancements that it daydreams about are now commonplace. In 1981 the idea that actors could be completely replaced with computer generated images of themselves seemed far-fetched. Today, it’s not only possible but in some cases (I’m thinking MEL GIBSON), maybe something we should encourage. (LOOKER actually features the very first CGI human character ever depicted on screen.)

The major problem with LOOKER is that it forgets its opening premise mid-way through the film. An intriguing mystery is set up and only vaguely defused by its awkward climax. Ironically, folks who caught this one on commercial television were gifted a motive to the happenings thanks to an additional scene. If you caught it on cable or in the theater though, you were on your own. See Mr. CRICHTON, television ain’t so bad after all! In order to sell more products, they lengthened your movie to the point where it actually had time enough to explain itself. Damn, that really is irony, look it up!

ALBERT FINNEY is plastic surgeon LARRY ROBERTS who is perplexed by the fact that already beautiful young women are asking for surgery to improve themselves further. (Can you imagine such a thing?) When several of the “perfect” women that he has worked on start ending up dead (mostly from falling out of buildings) he becomes suspect numero uno because somebody stole his pen. Trying to save his own ass and protect the lone, not-murdered-yet “perfect” beauty Cindy Fairmont (Awwwww, SUSAN DEY), he discovers a nefarious corporate operation utilizing subliminal mind control and the coolest gun ever made. The coolest gun ever made is the L.O.O.K.E.R. gun, its name stands for Light, Ocular-Oriented, Kinetic, something, something and it is a true blast. It hypnotizes the target with light and allows the shooter to make hay while the sun shines and the victim is dazed and confused. Hmmm, wonder if I could find a use for such a thing.

The “lost time” experience that the gun provokes is an interesting phenomenon to behold. The first couple of times we witness its use we are given no explanation and the effect is wonderfully confounding. (Although it should be said that anyone who has ever been abducted by aliens, has a serious drinking problem, or even just access to the Internet should be able to relate.) Just as LOOKER’s interest in body dysmorphia and the power of false images is uncannily contemporary, so too is this playing with a character’s perspective through his understanding of time. Go ahead and call LOOKER a bimbo if you like, just make sure you realize that it is a creative, forward thinking psychic bimbo who can see into the future.

There’s one surprisingly poignant scene where DEY’s character returns home seeking comfort from her parents only to find herself competing with an I LOVE LUCY rerun but for the most part; LOOKER is breezy fun despite it’s sometimes slack pacing. The subject matter, serious as it may be can’t help but slide into goofy camp on occasion and the years have made that slide all the more steep. Amusingly, much of what CRICHTON rallies against in LOOKER now seems positively quaint. A climactic battle that cleverly takes place inside a slew of commercials as they are being televised (shades of WES CRAVEN’s SHOCKER) is beyond unlikely but clever and hilarious anyway. It’s dated for sure and frankly I look forward to it becoming even more dated as the years go on.

Ugh, I’m sick of writing and isn’t it boring to have to read things? Let’s look at some pretty pictures and I’ll share some more about why I think LOOKER is just plain adorable…

Because of my monster sized love of all things BLADE RUNNER the LADD COMPANY logo will forever fill my pretend heart with glee.

One thing is for sure and that is that LOOKER has the choicest theme song in the world thanks to one SUE SAAD. Once you hear it it will be stuck in your head for exactly one century. It’s too bad a soundtrack was never released as the entire score is synth-awesome.

Who doesn’t dig the DEY and what’s wrong with you?

You have to admit the gun is just too cool.

So are these shades!

Let’s hear it for zero chemistry!

COBURN!

Hey, it’s the evil shrink from FRIDAY THE 13th PART 7: THE NEW BLOOD! (TERRY KISER.)

Oh look it’s the guy from MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH! (DERREL MAURY.)

Meanie Mustachio is ex-Philadelpha Eagle TIM ROSSOVICH! His lil bro is RICK ROSSOVICH who stared in the AUDRA LINDLEY smash SPELLBINDER! Can you believe that TIM used to be roommates with TOM SELLECK?

OMG, it’s Vicki’s dad from SMALL WONDER (DICK CHRISTIE)!

Holy moly… super bananas backwards slo-mo!

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