Saturday, October 29, 2011

Another Look at Looker

If you haven't already made your arrangements for Halloween viewing — and if you haven't, what have you been waiting for? — an option you might consider is "Looker," a movie that made its debut 30 years ago tomorrow.

It won't fit the bill for you if what you crave for Halloween is scary monsters or ghost stories. But if you lean to suspense thrillers with a touch of science fiction, well, "Looker" might be what you want.

It might not, though. It was more funny than spine–tingling, really a silly story.

The story, which was written and directed by Michael Crichton (better known for writing things like "Jurassic Park" and "The Andromeda Strain"), had some intriguing ideas behind it — and, in its way, was similar to "Network" in its anticipation of how modern mass communication would seek to manipulate the masses. But it never quite lived up to its promise.

"Network," which will mark its 35th birthday next month, addressed the concepts of news as entertainment and reality programming long before they popped up on the popular radar. "Looker" focused on advertising and absurdly precise measurements of physical beauty that determined what agencies did — and the lengths to which models would go to please the agencies.

Albert Finney, who had been nominated for Oscars twice prior to making this movie, was probably the most bankable star in a cast that included several familiar faces. He played a plastic surgeon who had performed apparently unnecessary operations on models who then turned up dead.

(These models, I should point out, were physically perfect, but not perfect in every way so a research company used digital scanning to acquire computer–generated models that could be animated in future commercials.)

Susan Dey, who was probably better known to moviegoers of that time as Laurie Partridge of TV's The Partridge Family, played one of Finney's patients. Her character worked with Finney to uncover a plot to kill the models.

At this point in her career, Dey was between her breakthrough role as the alluring yet virtuous Laurie and her next big role as the more mature lawyer, Grace Van Owen, in L.A. Law, and she was trying desperately to shed her squeaky–clean image.

She shed more than her image in her theatrical debut, 1977's "First Love." In fact, it could be argued that she exposed too much in that movie. When she made "Looker" about four years later, Dey seemed to have learned a lesson or two about the value of mystery — promise more but show less.

She teased the audience more in "Looker," and, ultimately, she delivered less. But, then, so did "Looker" in comparison to "First Love."

"First Love," at least, had a comprehensible, if schmaltzy, story. "Looker," on the other hand, was a bit contrived and there were elements that were simply never explained — except many years later in the commentary option on the DVD.

But it was fun then, and it should be fun now. If you don't have Halloween plans, you might give it some thought.