The pulpy actioner Hypnotic is the kind of movie that entrances one with just how many other movies it very closely resembles — say, Danny Boyle’s Trance, for starters. Its general premise has been covered before in both cinematic adaptations of Stephen King’s Firestarter and the “Pusher” episode of The X-Files, while director Robert Rodriguez borrows liberally from the styles of Rian Johnson and Christopher Nolan in the process. Heck, there was even a forgettable Netflix thriller that came out two years ago that was also titled Hypnotic and both films share similar elements of reality-bending and psychological manipulation. If the movie had managed to wield these influences wisely, then it could have been salvageable but with a progressively preposterous plot and lifeless performances, this is one you’ll want to snap away from your memory immediately.
Ben Affleck stars as Daniel Rourke, an Austin PD detective who hasn’t been the same after his daughter was abducted from a playground years prior. His partner Nicks (JD Pardo) treads lightly with him and tries to keep his head on straight as they go about their work, which includes responding to an anonymous tip at a bank one day. The appearance of a mystery man, played by William Fichtner, at the scene causes Rourke to give chase, only to be thrown off the trail by what seems to be the perp’s ability to control the minds of strangers. The bank tip is traced back to Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), a fortune teller with whom Rourke meets and learns of Hypnotics, individuals trained by a shadowy government organization to psychically control others. With the help of Diana, Rourke follows the clues that point to the powerful Hypnotic known as “Lev Dellrayne”, in the hopes that it will lead him to his missing daughter.
Most specifically, Hypnotic recalls a mid-aughts Philip K. Dick action movie adaptation like Minority Report or Next — in fact, Affleck himself even starred in one: Paycheck. Working with DP Pablo Berron, Rodriguez’s camerawork also borrows the saturated hues and harsh shadows of a Jerry Bruckheimer product from that era. Rodriguez’s screenplay, penned with co-writer Max Borenstein, similarly indulges in the hard-boiled dialogue you’d expect from a pre-Transformers Michael Bay picture. In fact, if the action in Hypnotic was more wall-to-wall and there were more explosions and lampposts, one could be convinced that this was a lost film Bay shot in secret with Affleck in between Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. Even though Bay has moved on to better fare since then, apparently Affleck inexplicably finds himself obligated to star in instantly dated potboilers like this.
It would make more sense if Affleck gave a committed or compelling performance in Hypnotic but he seems like he couldn’t care less about his character or what he’s going through. He’s almost comically gruff and stoic as our primary protagonist, until he gets completely sidelined by an avalanche of reveals and twists in the third act. Braga and Pardo don’t make much of an impression in supporting roles but they’re saddled with dialogue that’s either leaden with sci-fi exposition or cop movie clichés. “Mind control? Bank accounts? Sounds like my ex-wife!” Nicks scoffs at Diana during their first meeting. The all-too-brief presence of veteran players Jeff Fahey and Jackie Earle Haley further underscores the notion that Rodriguez should have diverted some screen time away from Affleck to highlight more engaged performances.
Though Rodriguez has often worn many hats during his previous productions, it’s not clear why he put so much of his time and effort into a project that is working at the direct-to-streaming level. He’s a fascinating filmmaker who’s working outside the traditional Hollywood machine, alternating between passion projects like Machete and family entertainment like the Spy Kids series. I don’t know where his latest venture fits within his previous filmography but I respect someone who puts everything they have into an undertaking, even if it’s ultimately unsuccessful. Rodriguez came up with this story, co-wrote the script, co-shot and co-produced the movie, along with editing it by himself. How many creatives working with a $65 million budget can say that?
Score – 2/5
New movies coming this weekend:
Speeding into theaters is Fast X, the tenth chapter in the Fast & Furious franchise starring Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez involving the son of a drug lord who seeks revenge on the Fast crew for the loss of his family’s fortune at their heist in Rio de Janeiro.
Streaming on Hulu is White Men Can’t Jump, a sports comedy remake starring Sinqua Walls and Jack Harlow about a pair of young basketball hustlers who team up to earn extra cash.
Available to rent is Outpost, a thriller starring Beth Dover and Dylan Baker about a survivor of a violent attack who searches for strength in the solitude of a lookout job but finds that her demons are still catching up with her.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup