'Trance' (R)

Trance, director Danny Boyle’s attempt to step into Christopher Nolan-styled “Whoa!” territory, plays like a mix tape of his previous films. Characters break the fourth wall and address the audience directly, as in Trainspotting. The film’s visual style is sleek and shiny and energetic, as in Slumdog Millionaire. Good guys and bad guys keep switching hats until you don’t know whom to trust, as in Shallow Grave. And in its final third, Trance collapses into a pile of preposterous silliness, like Sunshine did.

The movie reunites Boyle with former frequent collaborator John Hodge, who wrote The Beach and A Life Less Ordinary for him, among others. You would think it had taken something wonderful to reunite the pair, but no: Trance feels like a movie that exists only because the Oscar-winning Boyle had the clout to make it on a modest budget. It’s a self-indulgent bauble, and when you play it back in your head, the story makes no sense.

At least it’s never boring. James McAvoy stars as Simon, an auctioneer at a fine art museum who collaborates with a gang of thieves (led by Vincent Cassel) to steal a Goya painting being auctioned. But during the heist, Simon bumps his head and blacks out. When he wakes up, he can’t remember what happened — and can’t explain why the briefcase that was supposed to contain the painting is empty.

This does not sit well with his criminal pals, who force him to see a renowned hypnotist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), to help him remember where the artwork went.

The plot of Trance is purposely convoluted — you’re supposed to get more and more confused as the story unfolds, not always sure if what you’re watching is a dream. But unlike, say, Inception, which expertly played with levels of consciousness and reality, Trance is nearly impossible to keep up with. Everything in the movie is essentially a build-up to a big reveal, so very little that happens matters.

Fortunately, there’s Dawson. From the moment we meet her, we know there’s something up with Elizabeth. But whose side is she on, and what does she really want? The actress, whose looks have rarely been more seductive, and who speaks in a measured manner that makes you want to lean closer, is the film’s secret weapon. Boyle’s camera dips and swirls, with bursts of violence and ghastly sights (including one, the film’s best, that was ruined in the trailer). But all the action, slick and professional as it is, can’t compete with Dawson’s performance. She exudes a kind of calm aura, a seductive confidence and an inviting, take-my-hand quality that practically puts you in the eponymous trance.

She’s never been better: Too bad she’s not good enough from keeping this nutty movie from exploding into shards of colorful nonsense.

Cast: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Danny Sapani, Matt Cross.

Director: Danny Boyle.

Screenwriters: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge.

Producers: Danny Boyle, Christian Colson.

A Fox Searchlight Pictures release. Running time: 101 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, considerable nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.