Physician/novelist Michael Crichton’s (JURASSIC PARK, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN) fifth film as a director is a slick but empty thriller set within the world of television advertising. In its favor, it anticipates several concepts that are commonplace in today’s American culture, such as constant bombardment with advertising messages everywhere you look, Hollywood’s obsession with plastic surgery, and the use of computer generated images to replace actors on film. It’s interesting to try to watch LOOKER from a 1981 perspective, keeping in mind Crichton’s premonitions, but the director/screenwriter unfortunately fails to wrap a logical, absorbing story around them.
Albert Finney (WOLFEN), looking and acting a lot like William Shatner, is plastic surgeon Larry Roberts, who becomes curious after three out of four models upon which he performed very specific procedures die under mysterious circumstances. All three were also involved with a thinktank operated by a multimillion-dollar corporation owned by oily John Reston (James Coburn). When Roberts begins investigating the deaths, particularly after the police finger him as a murder suspect, he becomes suspicious of Reston’s company and discovers sophisticated gadgetry such as a computer that can place living actors within a filmed scene without the actors’ knowledge or consent and an elaborate light pistol that hypnotizes its victims for hours. PARTRIDGE FAMILY ingénue Susan Dey is the fourth model, whom Larry tries to protect.
An empty finale that fails to give Finney, the hero, appropriate heroics and a silly, hole-riddled script fail to capitalize on Crichton’s intriguing concepts. Both Dey and Playmate Terri Welles supply a surprising amount of nudity for a PG feature, and good supporting actors like Leigh-Taylor Young, Terry Kiser, Tim Rossovich, Dorian Harewood and Darryl Hickman appear, but without much gravity. Barry DeVorzon composed the dated score. In retrospect, LOOKER obviously anticipates Crichton’s next film, RUNAWAY, another slick but loose thriller with science fiction elements.