Inception is a slick, spasmodic, rambunctious ordeal. It's a convoluted wild-goose-dream chase.
It's stylistically audacious, but the content lags far behind. Even though it's been promoted as a movie for the brain. Inception is much more a movie for the eyes.
As Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his intrepid allies try to manipulate dreams, what is their goal? Could it be to try to discover the secret of life? Hardly.
It pretty much comes down to Dom's wanting to see the faces of his two young children. That's a nice, comforting thought, but is it worth 2 1/2 hours of dream confusion, crises, and conflagrations?
It reminds me of Ralphie in A Christmas Story (1983) desperately decoding his ring to reveal the answer, "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine."
Inception is the story of how Dom Cobb, who illegally extracts dreams for a living; he is enlisted by a Japanese energy businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) to invade the dreams of the son of a competing energy tycoon. The father is on his death bed, and the son (Cillian Murphy) is about to inherit his empire.
Saito wants Cobb to do an Inception which is to put an idea into his young rival's mind to make him break up his empire. This can be accomplished by the risky, unperfected concept of placing the idea into the mind by way of three levels of dreams -- a dream within a dream within a dream. [Limbo is a fourth level of dream.]
Cobb can't return to America, because he is wanted by the law for something he did in the past. Saito promises Cobb to have the charges dropped if he can process a successful Inception.
Cobb's father (Michael Caine) introduces his son to Ariadne (Ellen Page) who is a precocious dream architect who can help him. But Cobb's wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) is a threat -- for a reason we eventually find out -- who keeps destructively appearing in his dreams.
Cobb and his gang become fierce dream weavers in a dangerous quest.
Director/writer Chris Nolan is more stylistic necromancer than magical artist. Nolan has been given license to play a vast self-indulgent game, and he zealously wallows in it.
Probably people who dream the least will be most impressed by the movie. It's more "imagination" than real imagination. It throws dreams against the screen to see what will stick.
Inception is a glittering thimble. Dom says about Mal, "The thimble became her reality." It's shtik wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a pizza.
Inception is a Wachowski Brothers film that turns into a James Bond movie that turns into a Lifetime Special. That Ken Watanabe has make-up reminiscent of Keir Dullea's aged figure in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) does not make it a Kubrick movie.
The cast of Inception is excellent as they run with heedless energy. DiCaprio is appropriately sensitive as the guilt-ridden dream extractor. Ellen Page is appealing, as always, as the conscience of the film.
Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy are convincing as the two willful businessmen. And although his role is not equal to his talent, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is able as Cobb's man of action.
Marion Cotillard is merely acceptable in the key role as Mal, but she is not haunting. Hitchcock would have made her haunting.
Hans Zimmer contributes a musical score that hardly ever stops throbbing and diddling.
Inception is a diverting gambit, but you might want to check your watch a few times to see when the dreams are going to be over.
Do the dreams continue?
Spin, Chris, spin. Clatter. clatter. clatter.