‘Inception’ is too smart for its own good, but compelling nonetheless

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

DANCING ON THE CEILING | The action set pieces in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ are gorgeous and thrilling to watch. But to what end?

3.5 out of 5 Stars
Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page.
Rated R. 145 mins.
Now playing in wide release

Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance aside, The Dark Knight was the most overrated film of 2008 — muddled and overlong, it was a fine mess. Inception, by contrast — from Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan, who also wrote the script — could be called a beautiful disaster.

“Disaster” may be exaggerating. It is gorgeously decorated, with moody lighting, sharp costumes, expansive vistas and visual effects to beat the band. A fight sequence in a hotel hallway in zero gravity is the most exquisite action set piece since The Matrix.

But that’s also its downfall. Inception continually suggests tons of other movies, including Strange Days, Ocean’s 11, The Spy Who Loved Me, Mission: Impossible, Nolan’s own film The Prestige as well as Star Trek’s Holodeck, M.C. Escher’s art and a first person shooter video game — especially the latter.

The plot is actually quite simple — a standard heist film with a tech-heavy thesis behind it. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a thief who invades the dreams of industrialists and potentates and steals secrets from their subconscious.

But here’s where it gets tricky: Cobb is asked by a new employer (Ken Watanabe) to do something different: Plant an idea, and make the victim think it’s his. The process is called “inception,” and will require an architect (Ellen Page) to build several dream layers, allowing them to go deep enough to make the idea stick.

If that’s at all confusing, then watching hardly makes it easier. The technobabble makes Inception too smart for its own good. The layers of dreaming, the role of the “architect,” the manipulation of time and space… it all smacks of a gloriously crazy acid trip. The patina of complexity almost makes your head hurt.

But only almost. Even when it’s at its convoluted worst, Inception is the most consistently watchable of all the summer’s Hollywood blockbusters. DiCaprio played the same guilt-ridden widower with weird psychological issues in his last film, Shutter Island, an abortive haunted house movie masquerading as Hitchcock. He doesn’t add much to his resume with this performance, but his ability to doff the dialogue and make you understand, if only instantaneously, is a notable achievement.

The supporting cast, as the crew who get stuff done, fare the best. Tom Hardy is charming as a possibly gay forger, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s implacable innocence has never been put to better use in a mainstream film. Even Page, who was in danger of seeming one-note since her work in Juno, tones down the snark smartly. It’s also nice to see Tom Berenger working again.

Inception will be huge, of course, and it should be. The effects themselves merit rushing to the theater to see it on the big screen. Maybe that will encourage multiple viewings… and make the plot, eventually, decipherable. Until then, I’ll just relax in its beauty.


Zeus Comics turns 10 with party

It’s survived a move from Oak Lawn to Lemmon, a web series and the Jonah Hex movie and gay-owned Zeus Comics is still going strong. Richard Neal, pictured, is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a party on Saturday including special guests.
Writers Paul Benjamin and Alan J. Porter, who work on the comics of Monsters, Inc, and Boom Kids, will join Snow White in making personal appearances along with balloon animals and cake — sounds about right for a 10-year-old.

Zeuz Comics, 4411 Lemmon Ave. July 17, noon–5 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 16, 2010.