“Whose subconscious are we going into, exactly?” asks a puzzled Ellen Page in “Inception.”
Her confusion is understandable. Christopher Nolan’s movie about a tormented fugitive (Leonardo DiCaprio) who steals secrets from people’s dreams is an indecipherable thriller that left me in a stupor.
It’s highfalutin bunk, psychobabble propped up by car chases, shootouts, explosions and other action staples. Nolan effectively played mind games in “Memento” and showed a flair for blockbusters in his two Batman movies, but his attempt to combine the two genres is a disaster.
The premise is deceptively simple: When we dream we’re locked in a deep subconscious state that makes our thoughts vulnerable for pilfering by psychic thieves. The process is known as “extraction.” The flip side is “inception,” whereby ideas are planted in, rather than stolen from, a dreamer’s brain.
How this is done is explained ad nauseam in pseudo- scientific gobbledygook. There’s talk of dreams within dreams, subconscious security and “finding a way home.” I still have no idea what they’re talking about.
What I do know is that Dom Cobb (DiCaprio, looking grim and disgruntled) is haunted by a dark secret involving his late wife Mal (Marion Cotillard, looking gorgeous) and that he desperately wants to reunite with his two young children, who keep appearing in his dreams. To get there, he must do a favor for a powerful businessman (Ken Watanabe) -- invade the dreams of Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), the heir to a corporate empire, and plant an idea that will make him destroy it.
Cobb assembles a dream team of subliminal espionage agents: organizer Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), architecture student Ariadne (Page, in a wooden role), forger Eames (Tom Hardy) and chemist Yusuf (Dileep Rao). Together, they embark on an international adventure -- the movie was shot in six countries, including Morocco, Japan, England and France -- that takes them from snowy mountains to tropical streets.
All the elements are in play here. There’s a gunfight in the snow, a car chase in the rain, a van crashing into the water and people floating in the air like astronauts in space. But no amount of frenzied activity could awake me from this nightmare.
“Inception,” from Warner Bros., is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2
The Irish accents are so thick in “Kisses” that some of the dialogue includes English subtitles. Fortunately, this poignant story about two young runaways in Dublin requires little explanation.
Neighbors Dylan (Shane Curry) and Kylie (Kelly O’Neill) flee abusive homes, hop a barge to Dublin and spend Christmas in the big city. They skate around a mall on roller sneakers, listen to a street musician and meet a Bob Dylan impersonator (Stephen Rea) outside a nightclub. (Dylan’s music is sprinkled throughout the movie.)
They also experience the dark side of the city, narrowly escaping from a kidnapper and waking up in an alley next to a dead man. Their shared traumas and triumphs lead to some preteen bonding -- and a tentative kiss.
Writer/director Lance Daly captures the various moods by switching from black-and-white to color, and Curry and O’Neill are blissfully natural in their screen debuts.
“Kisses,” from Oscilloscope Laboratories, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***1/2
The star of “Valhalla Rising” is a one-eyed, scar-faced ancient warrior who is caged like an animal and forced to fight to the death, gladiator-style, against other brutes. He kills his captors and, accompanied by a young boy, journeys to a strange land where they encounter a group of fanatical Christians preparing for a holy mission to Jerusalem.
Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, whose last film was the brilliant “Bronson,” has followed it up with a gorgeous- looking but empty epic. There’s little dialogue and virtually no plot, though the appropriately named Mads Mikkelsen looks fearsome with a tattoo-covered body and an iron collar around his neck.
“Valhalla Rising,” from IFC Films, is playing in New York. Rating: **
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)