In writer-director Christopher Nolan's "Inception," Leonardo DiCaprio falls asleep, Joseph Gordon-Levitt falls asleep, Ellen Page falls asleep and I nearly fell asleep.

I can barely stay awake just thinking about "Inception" in order to finish this movie review.

"Inception" is officially the 2010 summer blockbuster season's worst movie, given its $160-million budget and advance hype. It's, arguably, the most ludicrous movie since "Dune" (1984).

It's Nolan's first original movie since his feature film debut, "Following" (1998).

If movie-making is all about storytelling, as the great Hollywood directors tell us, Nolan is the anti-storyteller.

As with his film, the acclaimed "Memento" (2000), Nolan, who directed the megahits and well-received "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," shuffles the deck, ala Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" (1994) for a nonlinear narrative in "Inception."

Nolan plays his cards so close to the vest as to be inscrutable, render the storyline incomprehensible and the "Inception" inconsequential.

Call it "The Last Mindbender."

The psycho-babble dialogue, often disguised as exposition, is so matter-of-fact as to be laughable. "Inception" and its characters are so serious, despite several gravity-defying scenes, as to induce the force of gravity itself, weighing down the entire movie.

One understands and applauds Nolan's starting point fascination with sub-cons (subconscious figures), projections of the mind (like the motion picture projection system itself) and the depths of the dreamscape (thought to be the essence of cinema), what with Second Life, video games and the virtual reality the web weaves.

Still, what started out as a brain-teaser turned out to be a real snoozer. "Inception" lacks intellectual rigor. There is a shocking paucity of imagination. M.C. Escher did it so much better.

The movie is intermittently tolerable because of the fine casting. DiCaprio, Gordon-Levitt and Page, as well as Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine (in little more than a cameo) would be compelling if they were only reading the Manhattan telephone directory.

"Inception" also scores with uber special effects. There are beaucoup explosions, gunfire, fisticuffs and vehicle chases. This keeps the viewer involved or at least awake. Nolan is from the school of screenwriters who believe that, when story, plot and pacing drag, blow it up.

Add a Hans Zimmer blunderbuss score, set the sound effects volume level at chest-rattling and slim chance you'll drift off to dreamland as most of the "Inception" lead characters. Lucky them.

Then again, maybe Nolan wants to put the "Inception" movie-goer to sleep, especially movie critics and reviewers, the better to sneak into their subconscious and write good reviews.

Didn't happen with this one.

"Inception": MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for sequences of violence and action throughout; Genre: Drama, Mystery, Science-Fiction, Thriller; Run Time: 2 hrs., 28 min.; Distributed by Warner Bros.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Snippets of Edith Piaf singing "Je Ne Regrette Rien" ("No Regrets") are heard throughout "Inception" and in the closing credits, although director Christopher Nolan doesn't let that classic play out, drowning it in a cacophony of sound.

Email Paul Willistein at: pwillistein@tnonline.com [1] and on Facebook.

One Popcorn Box out of Five Popcorn boxes