Sunday 21 February 2016

Movie Review: Looker (1981)

A hokey science fiction thriller with just a hint of smarts, Looker predicts the coming world of CGI but is an otherwise low-budget, low-brains mess.

In Beverly Hills, plastic surgeon Dr. Larry Roberts (Albert Finney) notices an increase in already gorgeous models, including Cindy (Susan Dey), coming to him with requests for precise adjustments to their features, measured in millimeters. When three such models turn up dead, victims of badly-staged suicides, police Lieutenant Masters (Dorian Harewood) suspects Roberts as possibly having something to do with the deaths.

Roberts decides to stick close to Cindy to try and keep her safe, and starts to investigate the connection between the dead women. His probing leads him to tycoon John Reston (James Coburn), who runs a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate including a company called Digital Matrix run by his wife Jennifer Long (Leigh Taylor-Young). Roberts uncovers a nefarious plot to create perfect television ads by generating digital copies of attractive models, with a high-intensity light weapon called LOOKER (Light Ocular-Oriented Kinetic Emotive Responses) being used to clean up the residual mess.

Written and directed by Michael Crichton, Looker is a muddled little thriller that is never quite sure of its own plot. Due either to bad writing, bad editing or both, the plot borders on incomprehensible, with Crichton never fully explaining what Reston is up to, why it has to be illegal, and why the models need to die. Worse is Dr. Robert taking on all investigative and policing duties, the surgeon-as-hero proving to be as plastic as his profession. Other than suspecting the wrong guy and then showing up in the final scene, the real cops add little value.

Albert Finney and James Coburn go through the motions with minimal conviction, Susan Dey and Leigh Taylor Young deliver daytime soap worthy performances to go along with some atrocious lines of dialogue, and former pro football player Tim Rossovich zombies through the movie as an inept hitman. The much touted light pulse weapon that gives the film its name is inconsistently applied (its impact ranges from hours to seconds), its function never fully explained, and appears to significantly complicate rather than simplify the intended criminal acts.

In the absence of a coherent story Crichton passes the time creating another of his futuristic environments propelled by science-on-the-edge. The research taking place at Digital Matrix mixes measuring human psychology with computer precision, and defining the minutiae of what the brain responds do. The context of computers being capable of delivering on human desires better than humans themselves is compelling, with Cindy experiencing what it feels like to be digitized and copied, rendering the original specimen superfluous.

These are ideas worth exploring, but only in the hands of a better filmmaker. Despite a polish of sexy glitz, Looker's appeal and intellect are not even skin deep.

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