The President of the United States (Eddie Albert) has been suffering troubling dreams lately, all tied to the possibility that he might bring his country to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and his closest aides are worried that these nightmares might be affecting his judgement. There could be a solution to this in the research of Doctor Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow), who has been undertaking psychic experiments with promising subjects - and promising results. However, his star pupil left him a while ago, Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid), and now makes his living lying low and betting successfuly on the horses - but his country needs him...
When Inception was released there were a few viewers who thought, here, haven't I seen this before, and it could be that it was Dreamscape that they were thinking of. Or maybe The Cell. Anyway, this was more eighties nuclear paranoia thriller than intellectual dreamweaving, and actually had more in common with another movie that was released in the same year: A Nightmare on Elm Street. The Wes Craven film adopted the same "what happens in the dream might as well have happened in real life" premise, although took it in a different, less science fictional direction, though they both ended up with characters fighting for their lives in nightmares.
Another film that this resembled was the ill-fated Brainstorm of a year before, as that too included scientists investigating technology that could bring you into your subject's mind, though again, the outcome was different here. Indeed, for much of this it appeared that the scriptwriters wished to make a Hitchcockian man on the run suspenser, complete with shady conspiracy which here reaches up to the highest echelons of top secret power manipulations. Quaid plays our self-confident hero, a bit of a rogue until the fate of the Western world rests in his hands, or in his mind at any rate, as he gives in and willingly goes through with the experiments to jump into volunteers' sleeping lives.
At first he has to use technology to do this, but after a while he gets adept at the challenge and can do it on his own. Unfortunately there may be someone else who can do the same, and although we're not supposed to work out who it might be if you know anything of the career of David Patrick Kelly, who plays Alex's main rival, then you won't be too shocked at the outcome of that particular conundrum. If anything, there's not enough dream stuff in the film, because what there is remains the most memorable part, from Alex helping a little boy (Cory 'Bumper' Yothers) get the better of his nightly foe (a stop motion snakeman) to pinning down a middle aged man's feelings of sexual inadequacy.
The plot with the President is too often sidelined until the final half hour, which makes it look like an afterthought until you realise that it has been what the film has been building up to, but it's interesting for a Hollywood film made in this era to posit that the leader of the free world was incredibly anxious that he might be forced to push the nuclear button and end it all - was Ronald Reagan quite as troubled, or did he relish having that power in his fingertip? Whatever, Albert's character could be regarded as weak, and that's how the head of the more secret than the C.I.A. security division sees it, played by Christopher Plummer in one of those sci-fi roles of his that seem unlikely until you remember how many he has been in. It's the last fifteen minutes that make what has been too humdrum worth watching for, as the special effects really kick in and we get zombies and a Bruce Lee impression for good measure, plus the bad guy sprouting blades on his fingers, not unlike a certain other dream villain - coincidence, surely? Electronic music by Maurice Jarre.