Review: Neo-noir 'Trance' too fractured to follow

Rosario Dawson stars in “Trance.”

Rosario Dawson stars in “Trance.”

Simon, a fine art auctioneer, teams up with a criminal gang to steal a Goya painting worth millions of dollars, but after suffering a blow ...

Rating: R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images, and language

Length: 101 minutes

Released: April 5, 2013 Limited

Cast: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Tuppence Middleton, Sam Creed

Director: Danny Boyle

Writer: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge

More info and showtimes »

Plot-twisting puzzlers are a bubble market in the movies these days, with an arms race of “Inception”-like reality reversals that flip like a coin until dizzy audiences lose all interest in how it lands.

That’s certainly the case with Danny Boyle’s “Trance,” a mind-bending neo-noir with continually shifting layers but little beyond its flashy plot machinations.

With Boyle’s characteristic briskness, “Trance” starts promisingly enough. James McAvoy is Simon, a London auctioneer who describes the emergency protocol of the high-end auction house “in the event of an event.” As he does so, such an event is under way: A well-planned gang led by Frank (Vincent Cassel) brazenly attempts to steal Francisco Goya’s “Witches in the Air.”

Simon attempts to foil the heist, but we soon realize he’s in on the plot, too. But something has gone awry. A blow to the head has sapped Simon of his memory, leading the crew to enlist a hypnotist (Rosario Dawson) to elicit the location of the missing painting from Simon’s banged-up brain.

This is, naturally, when the script by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge (a frequent collaborator with Boyle), begins to play with Simon’s hypnosis. The movie drifts in and out of consciousness, guided by Dawson’s silky voice. Is Simon our protagonist or villain? Is Elizabeth Lamb (Dawson) pulling out Simon’s memories or implanting them? Pubic hair, you will be happy to learn, figures prominently in the answers to these questions.

Boyle and his cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, saturate the film with reflected images and a sleek, colorful palate. “Trance” is never more than a minute away from a striking image, though the glassy, frenetic compositions only heighten the movie’s lack of depth.

It’s Dawson’s fleshy, commanding presence that helps melt the right angles of “Trance.” Her character gradually moves to the forefront of the film, such that you might mutter “James McA who?” by the time she, like a goddess, disrobes. But before a full picture of Elizabeth arrives, the movie’s succession of implausible trapdoors has rendered any big reveal about as satisfactory as a punch line to a 20-minute-long knock-knock joke.

“Trance” ends, somewhat laboriously, with the choice of a click, and the option to remember or forget. But the superficial tricks of “Trance” sadly already made that decision.

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