I love a good mind-bender, but it's getting more common these days to see thrillers that don't so much bend your mind as chop it, smash it, and place it in the Cuisinart. Trance, the new film directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), is a high-brainiac art-world thriller that wants to do nothing more (or less) than give your head a majorly pleasurable spin. Simon (James McAvoy), a young Scotsman, works at a fine-art auction house in London. He knows a lot about the history of the nude, but mostly he knows how to stave off an armed robbery. That's just what he has to do when Franck (Vincent Cassel), a sleepy-eyed French gangster, bursts onto the floor to filch the masterpiece that's being sold: a small painting by Goya called Witches in the Air. Boyle shoots the heist like a techno-pop musical number, which climaxes with Simon getting bashed on the head.
He then wakes up from a coma, having forgotten everything, including where he hid the painting. (It turns out that he was in on the job.) So how can Franck retrieve that precious piece of art? He sends Simon to see a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who specializes in recovering the memory of amnesia victims. Before you know it, the movie has turned into a fusion of Spellbound, Inception at its most convoluted, and the head-scratchingly half-baked identity games of Vanilla Sky.
The way to make a thriller that teases your brain is to start simple and lead the audience, layer by layer, into the wrinkles of complication. But Trance is top-heavy with clues, subplots, flashbacks, and hallucinations. The film hinges on the whereabouts of the painting, yet that turns out to be the most weightless of MacGuffins. The way Simon, Franck, and Elizabeth are connected never quite adds up. The escalating ''Huh?'' factor may be related to the leaps made possible by digital editing. You get the feeling that Boyle recut the footage so often, and in so many looped combinations, that he began to see links between images that no one in the audience would. To avoid spoilers, I can't reveal a lot of what happens in Trance. But the more the mystery gets ''solved,'' the more it proves there was never any there there to spoil. D+