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'Predestination' an unpredictable thrill ride

 'Predestination' an unpredictable thrill ride
Actor Ethan Hawke in a scene from "Predestination." (Ben King / Sony Pictures)

An inscrutable sci-fi thriller recalling "Looper," "Predestination" features Ethan Hawke as a time-traveling agent on a mission to intercept a notorious serial bomber. Unlike most entries in the genre, though, this one is conspicuously low-tech.

Hawke's unnamed character arrives in 1970 from 1985 to work in a murky bar. In saunters a dour, disagreeable young man — or as filmmakers Michael and Peter Spierig would like you to believe, our prime suspect. He is a writer who goes by the nom de plume the Unmarried Mother and is played by Sarah Snook, and he will immerse us for the next hour or so in his fantastic life story spanning from an orphanage to a 1963 space-travel boot camp, complete with sex reassignment.

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Most of the film's time travels don't take flight until the last half-hour, where plot twists also await. Without spoiling, let's just say that not one is a gratuitous gotcha, the kind of cheap trick used by filmmakers too impressed with themselves. The Spierig brothers have deftly fashioned an unpredictable thrill ride, and the joy is to fit together all its puzzle pieces. Hand them a decent budget, and watch them be the next Wachowskis.

Hawke continues to make risky and interesting choices, and this one echoes 1997's "Gattaca." The virtually unknown Snook truly impresses playing both genders. This is the first great film of 2015.

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"Predestination"

MPAA rating: R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language.

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena. Also on VOD.

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