From the Mists of Time: “Looker”

January 7, 2014


Welcome back to “From the Mists of Time,” and boy, do we have a doozy today. It’s a strange, largely unknown little gem from 1981 called Looker. Why review this movie, you ask? Well, kinda because I created this while FTMOT subcategory and I feel like I should populate it with something, so it doesn’t end up like my “What Went Wrong” category (with five years before a second installment).  Besides, this movie is a great time capsule of the ‘80s. It’s got that ubiquitous SoCal setting (usually some producer or other’s beachfront pad that he’d just shooed the underage hookers out of), totally unnecessary sports cars, plastic surgery, and vapid, Barbie doll blondes. Hell, throw in a hot tub and some blow, and you pretty much have the early ‘80s in a nutshell.

So, the most notable thing about Looker is that it was written and directed by Michael Crichton during the phase when he went to Hollywood and before he just wrote nigh-perfect airport novels and let Hollywood come to him. Now, when praising Crichton, critics usually point to his novels and riding the bleeding edge of science and portending a future just a few moments from now. And sure enough, today, only a few years after his death, we live in a world in which most of us ride our stegosauruses to our slave-wage jobs at Japanese corporations that have totally subjugated the American economy where we must pteronandon-joust for our Yakuza masters’ amusement. Oh, and we also have nano-technology that controls the weather.

Pictured: the 1996 Presidential election.

Pictured: the 1996 Presidential election.

Right, so basically Crichton was less of a “futurist,” and more of “guy who stole some sci-fi technology concepts from Star Trek and packaged them in mediocre thrillers.” But in Looker, he actually does portend a few things which are coming to pass today. He doesn’t quite get the application right, but it’s still kinda cool.

Looker stars Albert Finney as a hotshot L.A. plastic surgeon—no read that sentence again; it says what you thought it says. See, the late -70s/early-‘80s was a strange time in the lifespan of the relationship between Hollywood and Albert Finney. This was when the bigwigs in tinsel town regarded this potato-faced, lumpy-bodied Briton with the white-dude-‘fro and said, “Fuck yeah. This dude says New Yorker better than anyone else on screen.” For more on this, check him out as a hardboiled NYPD cop in Wolfen (though I should warn you, the sight of Finney in his nuthugger jogging pants and topknot may actually make you sterile—and if it doesn’t, the sight of a nude Edward James Olmos pretending to be a wolf likely will).

“I’m what they call ’80s handsome.”

Where was I? Oh yeah, so Finney’s a plastic surgeon whose life is thrown into turmoil when two of his patients commit suicide. Poking around a bit –as everyone who’s not a detective was wont to in the ‘80s—Finney finds a shady advertising agency hired both of the girls.  That same company is also using another of his patients, played by LA Law’s Susan Dey, who Finney has the hots for, so he kills two birds with one stone by banging her and using her as an entry into this new agency.

In the future Susan Dey will live in all our electronic devices...

In the future Susan Dey will live in all our electronic devices…

And he finds is…well, some computer stuff. Yeah, this is where it gets a bit convoluted, so if you need a second drink or something now’s a good time. Okay, so Cyberdyne (or whatever they’re called) is using a computer to create 3D computer avatars of these actresses to use their likenesses in dopey commercials. So far so good, since we kinda already do this, except we do it for larger stunts and effects sequences, but okay, Mike, good call on that one.

In reality, we use CGI to recreate young Sean Connery. Because we really want to see that

In reality, we use computers to recreate young Sean Connery. Because we really want to see that “Zardoz” prequel.

But insipid laundry commercials alone aren’t enough. No, they’re also using the avatars to send hypnotic messages via their glowing eyes to control the minds of the viewers. Uh…that’s a bit farfetched, there, Mike. Oh, and they also weaponized the technology by making a hypno-gun, which puts its victims into a mini-trance, allowing the user to get close and punch the victim in the face with impunity. Uh…again, maybe a bit too far, Mike.

I'm just drowing in the futurism right now...

I’m just drowing in the futurism right now…

Anyway, the rest of the movie is your basic corporate thriller, which ends, as they all do, with a nameless killer chasing the hero with a machine gun, and the corporation being outed to the public (they chose their big PR event as the location and time to break out the MAC-10s). And Finney exposes their nefarious deeds and walks into the SoCal sunset to bang Susan Dey some more. There was probably at least one Olivia Newton-John song and lots of amyl nitrate poppers involved.

“You will buy parachute pants…parachute pants…”

Looker is kind of weird. I mean, it feels and plays like a made-for-TV movie, but it has nude Susan Dey in it, so it must have been a theatrical release. Yeah, I know you probably think of the ‘80s and you just assume it was one big party, full of cocaine and orgies, but as one who was almost ten when this movie came out I can assure you, this era wasn’t all sex in hot tubs with unwaxed chicks who look like Lita Ford. Yeah, that was happening—probably in, like, every home in the US—but when it came to TV, man, folks were Puritanical as hell. I mean, Catherine Bach invented Daisy Duke short-shorts, and several cities went up in flames as people rioted. I’m pretty sure. I seem to remember something like that.

This poster cost the lives of so many SPencer's Gifts employees...

This poster cost the lives of so many Spencer’s Gifts employees…

So, yeah, Looker. I don’t know why anyone would think anyone would want to pay to watch this movie in the theater. But, then again, we hadn’t invented the Internet yet, so I suppose there was just less to do back then.

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