Joseph Gordon-Levitt and friend in Inception
The good news: I’m not going to give away any of the mind-bending twists that lay at the center of Christopher Nolan‘s highly-anticipated sci-fi mindfuck Inception.
The bad news: That’s because there aren’t any to give away.
Does it matter if the glass is half-full or half-empty if you only bought the ticket in the first place to see the glass turn upside-down?
Leo hates bath time!
I’m a geek for hyper-cerebral flights of fancy and puzzlebox entertainment (Lost was far too pedestrian for me, and I scoff at Sudoku!). And perhaps because of this I was expecting a serious mindfuck of an experience from Inception, seeing as how it’s got such a solid director, great cast and intriguing central premise. (Oh, by the way – that would be breaking into other people’s dreams either to extract – or plant – information.)
But much like the stuff of dreams themselves, Inception proves to be pretty slippery – while on the surface it might seem to be as massive and perilous as Paris folding in on itself or a freight train materializing in a busy city street, in the end it’s less than the sum of its glossy, super-slo-mo parts. Fortunately, that still puts it in the general neighborhood of “way better than anything else that’s coming out right now”, but it still makes for a mildly unsatisfying watch, overall.
Ellen Page looks for a way out
The plot is pretty simple, believe it or not: A team of thieves hire themselves out (mostly to big corporations) to break into people’s dreams in order to steal important info. The team leader, Dom Cobb (no, I’m not making that up – and no, it’s not on the salad menu), is a man with a dark secret who is haunted by the death of his hot French wife, who now pops up in his own dreams. The team takes One Last Case in an attempt to win Dom’s entry back into the United States so he can see his kids.
And that’s it! I won’t spoil the details of the job, as they’re pretty much all the movie has to prop itself up on, aside from a few neat pictures. Acres of spoken exposition and millions of bullets and snowmobile chases later, we come to a reasonably satisfying conclusion.
In the end, the engaging but rather mechanical Inception was a bit of a letdown. Sure, it’s got the amazing visuals and sumptuous sets that anyone who has enjoyed Nolan’s reboot of the Batman franchise – myself included – will enjoy (as well as many returning castmembers, including Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine).
It’s got Ellen Page not being pregnant OR snarky, Leonardo DiCaprio being Leonardo DiCaprio, and – by the evidence of the swarms of good-looking men in gorgeous suits that populate the movie – the luckiest and hardest-working tailor in Hollywood snipping its threads. (I would give my left eye to measure an inseam on Tom Hardy, and I’m not ashamed to say it.)
It’s got a fun premise and a few impeccably-staged action scenes that hinge both on exquisite timing and the difficult sell of making the audience believe that these dream-crashers are in legitimate peril, which Nolan pulls off with aplomb. All of this is just dandy, and certainly enough to make Inception worth seeing. It’s surely the most solidly-rendered movie so far this summer.
But in the end the film isn’t nearly as clever as it has you thinking it is. (Which may be very clever in itself, until you get wise to it.) It lacks both the intrigue and the complexities of character needed to deliver a fully satisfying experience – for one, the B-players literally have no identities beyond their roles in the scheme, making the entire enterprise feel more designed than inspired.
The main story – which involves DiCaprio and his team planning to attempt an “inception” (the thought-to-be-impossible act of planting of an idea into a dreamer’s mind, so that they wake believing that it is their original thought) on an unsuspecting businessman – does hinge on one major mystery, but unfortunately it’s way too easy to figure out. I was left hoping for more twists and turns, but the story plays out with a surprising lack of complications.
Perhaps because most of the movie is ballasted by the mechanical workings of the dream-invasion scheme, its most entertaining moments come during scenes that have little to do with the plot and are mostly just its characters bopping about in the dreamscape and having fun with it.
An early scene where DiCaprio’s ringleader character drafts Page (playing a wide-eyed young architect) to build the dream worlds for their scam is fun because eventually Page’s character basically tunes out DiCaprio’s and starts messing with the dream on her own. Likewise a later sequence where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character maneuvers a handful of sleeping colleagues in a zero-gravity hotel – it’s just so damn fun to see this guy dancing off the walls (in skin-fitted trousers, I might add) that you forget about the whole storyline altogether.
Much like Page’s character, I found myself wanting to wander away from the heist to play with the buildings. Though comparisons to The Matrix and Memento might be more obvious, when coming out of the film it reminded me most of Cronenberg‘s Existenz … only without the sense of humor.
Maybe if Nolan had further indulged his characters’ playful sides , Inception might have been brilliant. As it is, it’s a better-than average sci-fi film with lots of pretty things upside-down.
RATING (OUT OF 5):
Inception is Rated PG-13 for scenes of action violence, strong language, and the most droolworthy goddamn tailoring this side of Mad Men.