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LOOKER (1981)

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Looker is an 80s mystery/thriller with some science fiction overtones that today, some of which, would be considered science fact. The film opens with the mysterious death of a beautiful young girl. She’s not the first to die like this and not the first to be a patient of high profile L.A. plastic surgeon Dr. Larry Roberts (Albert Finney). Roberts finds it odd that these beautiful women came to him with specific and practically unnoticeable changes in the first place, but now those same girls are winding up dead. Despite some evidence left at the crime scenes for police that Roberts is involved, he begins to investigate the deaths himself with the help of model and friend Cindy (Susan Dey). Roberts soon uncovers a possible conspiracy involving a shady research company called Digital Matrix and business tycoon John Reston (James Coburn). What is the Looker Project and why is Reston prepared to kill to keep it secret?

Written and directed by über-author Michael Crichton, Looker is a silly movie that does have some good ideas behind it. The idea of using computer generated actors and models was ahead of it’s time back in the early 80s, as is the concept of using computer generated imagery to place subconscious suggestions in viewers minds. Sadly these concepts are used in a film that starts out as an OK murder mystery, but gets increasingly silly as it goes along. The idea of this posh plastic surgeon turning all private detective is goofy enough, but to have him go complete James Bond in the last act, including sneaking into a pontificating villain’s lair and battling his thugs with futuristic weaponry, is almost laughable. Not to mention the actual reason for having the models killed is just borderline dumb to begin with. The last act is just plain wacky and not in a good way, and almost seems to be part of another far more campy movie. We’d actually have some fun with it on that level if it didn’t drag on for so long. Technically the film is well made and there is a cool 80s score by The Warriors composer Barry De Vorzon. The title tune sung by Sue Saad and the Next is probably the most memorable thing about the movie…though I do find it oddly charming, despite all it’s flaws, mostly because of how 80s it is.

Finney is a great actor, but doesn’t quite click as a sexy Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who beds woman more than half his age. He also looks outright uncomfortable during some of the action scenes. The legendary James Coburn is just going through the motions as a cliché megalomaniacal villain. Probably just a paycheck job, as his career was winding down at this point, as the 80s brought in a new generation of actors, like Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone, to steal the spotlight from the old school movie tough guys. Susan Dey is pretty as Cindy and actually comes off the most natural for the context of the film as Roberts’ somewhat ditzy romantic interest.

There is some cheesy 80s entertainment here and some good ideas mixed in with all the silliness. It starts off well enough, but gets increasingly goofy as it goes along. The usually excellent Finney is miscast and the last act really goes off the over-the-top deep end with a James Bond-ish finale set in a constantly rearranging television studio. It all occurs in front of a live audience…who are laughing as much as we are at this point. A misfire for sure, but not one without some nostalgic charm.

-MonsterZero NJ


Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) scanned lookers…earns extra points for being charmingly 80s.

looker rating