Looker (1981) / Sci Fi-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG for nudity, violence and language (probably PG-13 by today's standards)
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Albert Finney, Susan Dey, James Coburn, Leigh Taylor-Young, Dorian Harewood, Tim Rossovich, Kathryn Witt, Terri Welles, Ashley Cox, Vanna White (cameo)
Director: Michael Crichton
Screenplay: Michael Crichton
Looker is one of Michael Crichton's (Coma, Westworld) several modern science fiction thrillers that are almost wholly interchangeable in terms of plot developments and general storylines, even if the events that hold them together are all different. The premise itself is fascinating, with delicious social commentary involving the seductive power of television and the morally erosive nature of commercials that do little but make the consumer feel inferior if they aren't using the product advertised. The intelligence ends right there, though, as the rest of it is a routine thriller, hardly any different from typical Hitchcock fare (is there really any difference between this film and Hitch's The 39 Steps?), and once the mystery (which isn't much of a mystery) is revealed as to what's behind all of the hullabaloo, it all unravels into extended chase scenes and gunfights that get progressively sillier.
Albert Finney (Wolfen, Erin Brockovich) stars as one of the nation's finest plastic surgeons, Larry Roberts, who becomes a suspect to murder when a couple of his recent patients end up dead. Clues are intentionally left by the real killer that point to Roberts as the murderer, and with the police nosing around, the doctor finds that he must get to the bottom of things himself before they pin it on him for good. There is a connection among the dead women -- they are all models doing commercials for a particular corporation that is employing a new form of technology that promises to revolutionize the way people see ads on television. Needless to say, there's more than meets the eye as to their ultimate intentions.
Although it is interesting for good spells, Looker ultimately falls short of being a truly mesmerizing thriller due to implausible motivations, hackneyed plotting, and a silliness factor that tends to make some of the more serious moments seem laughable (Why is it that a billion dollar corporation has only one hired goon to do its dirty work?). The best thing about it, other than Finney's solid performance, is the underlying commentary about television's potential dangers as the conduits of information, and the way that corporations can use this tool to distort our perceptions of what we see every day. Had it stayed in this mode, instead of trying to constantly be titillating, it wouldn't have been nearly as much of a cheap thrill excursion as it ends up being. High concepts are filtered down until they are readily consumed by mainstream audiences that care little for cerebral science fiction. As intelligent as Crichton is, he's crafted little more than a sensationalistic, lowbrow suspenser.
None of it really makes sense, as there never really is a decent explanation behind the murders that occur, and even less so as to why it all had to be pinned on Dr. Roberts (reportedly, television airings do add expository scenes to fill in these holes). This is just one of those movies where the less you think about such things, the more likely you are to be entertained by it, although once you realize that the entire plot is built using a house of cards that has little to support it, it all comes crashing down. Perhaps the worst aspect: no matter how many times I smash my head into the wall, the theme song still remains in my memory. Looker will hold your attention while it's on, but with such high overhead, it will most likely leave you with a hangover afterward.
©2006 Vince Leo