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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Leo DiCaprio's big summer movie arrives in theaters today. "Inception" combines expensive, flashy effects with a plot that's not a sequel, prequel or based on a comic book. Kenneth Turan has our review.

KENNETH TURAN: Dreaming is life's great solitary adventure. We experience its pleasures and terrors alone. But what if other people could literally invade our dreams?

(Soundbite of movie, "Inception")

Mr. LEONARDO DICAPRIO (Actor): (as Cobb) I know how to search your mind and find your secrets. I know the tricks.

TURAN: Welcome to the world of "Inception." It's as disturbing as it sounds.

(Soundbite of movie, "Inception")

Mr. DICAPRIO: I need to know my way around your thoughts better your wife, better than your therapist, better than anyone. If this is a dream and you have a safe full of secrets, I need to know what's in that safe.

TURAN: Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a thief who specializes in what's called extraction, in taking secrets from the subconscious. He's hired to perform the even riskier task of inception: to put ideas in the head of one of the world's richest men. For this he has to employ Ariadne, a young architect played by Ellen Page.

(Soundbite of movie, "Inception")

Ms. ELLEN PAGE (Actress): (as Ariadne) How can I ever acquire enough detail to make them think that it's reality?

Mr. DICAPRIO: You never really remember the beginning of a dream, do you? You always wind up right in the middle of what's going on.

Ms. PAGE: I guess, yeah.

Mr. DICAPRIO: So how did we end up here?

TURAN: "Inception's" plot is easier to follow than to explain, and it's not always possible to know which world the characters are in from one moment to the next. But even if specifics are tantalizingly out of reach, you always intuitively understand what is going on and why.

Besides its science fiction theme, "Inception's" roots are in old-fashioned genre entertainment. The film has strong film noir aspects, and everyone will recognize tropes like the glamorous femme fatale and the always-fateful decision to take on one last job.

These elements come together because writer-director Christopher Nolan, who did the last two "Batman" films, is a master at creating what he calls a tumbling forward quality, where you're being pulled into the action.

"Inception" is a popular-entertainment knockout punch, so potent it'll have you worrying if it's safe to close your eyes at night.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

If you'd like a different take on the same movie, go to our website, npr.org for a review from critic David Edelstein. He follows movies for WHYY's FRESH AIR.

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