I can count on one hand the number of directors who've had four of their films land on my annual Top Ten List. In the case of Christopher Nolan, there's Memento (2000), Insomnia (2002), Batman Begins (2005) as well as The Dark Knight (2008), which was my #1 pick a couple years ago. So, naturally, I eagerly-anticipated the release of his latest offering, a multi-layered sci-fi thriller about mind control starring Leonardo Di Caprio.
Unfortunately, Inception fails to measure up to this critic's high expectations, although it is an amusing enough diversion to remain recommended. That being said, the film's flaws are considerable, starting with its unwarranted length of 148 minutes. For, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it's easy to see how about an hour's worth of its premise-establishing celluloid is actually inconsequential filler that should have hit the cutting room floor.
The second problem is the amount of mental gymnastics necessary to follow a hopelessly-convoluted plot desperate to be way too clever for its own good. Sorry, I happen to resent it when a summer blockbuster feels more like an SAT test than relaxing escapist entertainment.
However, what's most frustrating about Inception is that it's a talk-driven as opposed to an action-driven adventure, so critical developments are always being explained verbally rather than shown visually. In this regard, the movie is reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code (2006) and its sorry sequel Angels & Demons (2009) which featured a terminally-chatty Tom Hanks constantly painting word pictures as a Harvard professor blessed with the gift of gab.
Here, we have an equally-loquacious protagonist in Dom Cobb (Di Caprio), a corporate sleuth specializing in stealing secrets from unsuspecting targets while they're dreaming. At the point of departure, his services are retained by a Japanese businessman (Ken Watanabe) bent on cornering the world's energy market by neutralizing Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy), the heir to the empire of Saito's recently-deceased, chief competitor (Pete Postelthwaite).
Cobb comes up with a novel approach he's never tried before, namely, implanting a dream in Fischer instead of extracting one. He then assembles the personnel needed to implement the plan, a crack team, comprised of a researcher Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a forger Eames (Tom Hardy), an anesthesiologist Yusuf (Dileep Rao) and an architect Ariadne (Ellen Page).
In the process of planning the somnolent heist, chattering Cobb chews the ears off his assistants with pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo, otherwise the audience wouldn't have the slightest understanding of what's going on. Oh, and there's a humanizing side story involving his being a widower with a couple of young kids (Claire Geare and Magnus Nolan) he never sees, because he's also a fugitive from justice implicated in the murder of his late wife (Marion Cotillard). She's a vengeful shrew who has a bad habit of posthumously popping up and going berserk periodically in parallel universes of her harried hubby's creation.
A patently-preposterous, endlessly-elliptical mindbender that's worth the investment just to be able to say you sat through it, even if you can't follow all of its meandering machinations. It's that hip!
Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for pervasive action and violence.
Running time: 148 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers