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`INLAND EMPIRE' AN EERIE MIND TRIP.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

Neil Young wrote of his No. 1 hit ``Heart of Gold'': ``This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.''

Save for maybe ``The Straight Story'' and ``The Elephant Man,'' David Lynch has spent his entire career in the ditch, making movies for people willing to tune in, turn on and drop out of the narrative-driven mind set that drives America's multiplex movies.

With his latest, ``Inland Empire,'' Lynch has outdone himself, and you can take that comment in both the best and worst possible ways. A more apt title would be ``Inward Empire,'' as Lynch has made a movie that explores his own-private-Idaho obsession with the elastic nature of identity in such an enigmatic fashion that it makes ``Mulholland Dr.'' look like ``Deck the Halls'' by comparison.

To give you a taste of the ``plot'': A somewhat faded actress named Nikki Grace (a fantastic Laura Dern) gets cast in a big Hollywood movie, only to learn that it is actually a remake of a film that was never completed because both its leads were murdered. This explains (in part) the gypsy woman (scenery-chewing Grace Zabriskie) who showed up at Nikki's cavernous Beverly Hills mansion warning of curses, omens and, who knows, maybe a Pink Dot yogurt store is about to open around the corner.

Once on set, Nikki sees someone mysterious, who turns out to be herself, who turns out to be either/both her character in the movie or a confused housewife/hooker living out in the 909 area code, dealing with an abusive husband who wants to run off and join the Baltic circus. (Probably Lynch's secret dream.)

It's all completely inscrutable, and if you're in the Lynch mob, perversely delightful. Lynch has come to see the Hollywood dream factory as the world primary exporter of nightmares, and through his jarring tonal shifts and eerie use of sound (his movies are cinema's richest listening experience), he brings that idea to life in a way that's absolutely haunting.

Yes, at three hours, it's exasperating at times, but ``Inland Empire'' is a movie worth losing yourself inside. Think of it less as a puzzle than a piece of abstract art that won't let you look away. And believe me: You won't. You can't. It's Lynch.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp@dailynews.com

INLAND EMPIRE - Three stars

(R: language, some violence, sexuality, nudity)

Starring: Laura Dern.

Director: David Lynch.

Running time: 3 hr.

Playing: Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena; Laemmle's Sunset 5 in West Hollywood.

In a nutshell: David Lynch outdoes himself. You decide: Is that a good thing?
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 15, 2006
Words:458
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