by Johnny Web

Several models who had similar plastic surgery have died under mysterious circumstances. The police think the deaths are suspicious enough to assign the case to the homicide division, but their one and only suspect is the women's common plastic surgeon. In typical movie fashion, the beleaguered doctor (Albert Finney) decides to abandon his medical practice temporarily in order to solve the crime himself. He manages to pull off a series of capers which which would impress James Bond, including reckless car chases which endanger the city, shoot-outs with automatic weapons, high-tech gizmos, stolen access codes, and disguises. In addition to his unlikely quest to expose the real killers, he also takes it upon himself to protect the one remaining model who falls into the same category as the dead girls. While he is conducting his investigation, he consistently fails to keep the police apprised of important clues and also fails to tell them that he is going to be the constant companion of the next potential victim. He doesn't even tell the police of her existence!

It's irritating that the baddies, armed with all sorts of futuristic technology, are unable to dispose of one flabby little old plastic surgeon. Bad guy Tim Rossovich, a former NFL player, should be able to dispose of Albert Finney with his bare lands, let alone with a perception-altering light gun. Albert Finney is not a very athletic guy, and he looked downright puny in the action sequences. Yet Rossovich fails to kill Finney repeatedly despite having him outgunned and also having paralyzed him several times with the hypnotic weapon.

Far more irritating is the fact that the film never offers any explanation of why the models were killed in the first place! Once it establishes a premise for the doctor's Mission Implausible, it goes off in a completely different direction. Since it becomes an "evil corporation" movie, I suppose the company killed the girls just because it was (summon Richard Burton's ghost to say ... ) eee-villlll!

The editing of the narrative is so choppy that the film seems to be a shortened version of a far longer work. I don't know that to be the case since there are no deleted scenes on the DVD, but it is a reasonable assumption based on such matters as these:

(1) The surgeon's partner is introduced as a possible red herring killer - even says he's going to date the girls after Finney operates on them, but he never appears again after the opening scenes. This is particularly confusing since the police should have considered him the #1 suspect in the murders, since his romantic proclivities would make him, not Finney, the central link between the women. There had to have been some reason why that character was introduced in the first place, but as the film stands he serves absolutely no purpose other than confusion..

(2) There is one sequence that goes as follows: (a) On a Saturday night, Finney is pinned down in his office by two guys with automatic weapons - all seems bleak and hopeless for him. (b) With the camera on Finney as he cowers beneath a sink, one of the off-camera guys says "to hell with him, we have the girl," and the assailants simply leave, obviously having no interest in killing him. (c) A word slide appears that says "Sunday." (d) Suddenly it is daylight and Finney is in a car, being chased by the two men, whose interest in killing him has apparently been restored. It seems quite clear that other things must have happened between the beginning and ending of this sequence, but the audience (unlike the doctor) is left in the dark.

(3) There is an undeveloped sub-plot about a presidential candidate who will (presumably) use marketing and computer technology for the evil purpose of winning elections. Vestiges of this thread pop up from time to time, but without anything to tie them together. The candidate never appears except in a video-within-the-film.

I wasn't the only one who was baffled by the editing. After I wrote the words above, I read the NY Times review written by Vincent Canby, which said, "The plot is pretty silly but Mr. Crichton's handling of it is even sillier, though it is bold. When his characters get themselves into a tight spot and, against your better judgment, you wonder how they'll get out, the director just cuts to another scene in which the tight spot has been forgotten. His chases have no climaxes. They simply end. Mr. Crichton has fun sending up television commercials in one extended sequence, but his direction of the rest of the film is so sloppy one suspects that if he himself were a plastic surgeon, two ears might wind up on one side of the same head."

I assume that all the missing pieces are on the cutting room floor. I guess I could listen to writer/director Michael Crichton's commentary to find out whether I'm right, but the film is just not significant enough to warrant such a time investment.

As Canby noted, the film has sequences which are quite enjoyable, but they are comic rather than thrilling. There are some funny send-ups of commercials, and the best scene is the final shoot-out. The action occurs during a live demonstration video in which digital actors are being superimposed on some sets. Finney and the bad guys wander in and out of the sets, thus unintentionally and unknowingly interacting with the digital actors in a video being broadcast to demonstrate new technologies to a hoity-toity group of corporate fat cats. At one point, a dead and bloody Tim Rossovich is lying on a breakfast table while a digital family discusses their Oat Bran. The black-tie honchos and their wives are confused and shocked by what they see, and express their reactions with stock black-and-white-era crowd dialogue like "Say, what's he trying to pull?" Somebody apparently failed to tell the author that the 1930s had ended.

Looker does have a good cast (James Coburn plays Dr. Evil to Albert Finney's Austin Powers), and it does have one element which makes the film much more interesting now than it was 25 years ago. Unlike the typical film about science-based paranoia, this one imagined most of the future details quite accurately. For example, it predicted a day when live actors would be replaced by their digitally-simulated counterparts to create more effective product marketing. We can see many examples of this today, one recent one being the creepy recent popcorn commercial which brings Orville Redenbacher back to life. The script also posited a time when omnipresent computers would replace TVs as the primary delivery vehicles for visual stimuli. That seems obvious today, but was not in 1981 when the first PCs were basically used for word processing and performing simple math. The future it imagined in 1981 is very similar to the world in which we live, and that's interesting to observe.

Crichton is on record as having said that he meant this entire film to be funny - sort of a genre spoof. The plot and the action sequences are so bad that could have been made that way on purpose, so perhaps Crichton is telling the truth. I certainly hope so, because Looker does have a few laughs, but is truly preposterous and annoying if viewed as a thriller.


* widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1. This is the first time the film has ever been available in the original A/R.

* full-length commentary by director Michael Crichton

* Crichton offers a brief commentary on the film's scientific predictions.




It was nominated for an Oscar for cinematography.

50 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)


5.7 IMDB summary (of 10)


There is currently no box office information available online. The film was released on October 30, 1981


Terri Welles gets topless. She was the Playboy Playmate of the Month in December of 1980, just before this film was released. Girl couldn't act a lick, but what a body!!

Former Partridge Family member Susan Dey is tastefully naked. (No pubes visible. Her frontal is in near-stygian darkness.)


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


The comedy and the prescient view of the future make it watchable, despite the lackluster writing and clumsy editing of the thriller plot and the action sequences.