It’s hard to believe that in today’s cinematic landscape, a new film from Robert Rodriguez and led by Ben Affleck can get as little buzz as the sci-fi actioner, Hypnotic. Short of the word-of-mouth from the festival circuit, there’s a good chance most people have no idea this movie exists. Then again, short of Alita: Battle Angel there hasn’t been much reason to pay attention to Rodriguez, and Affleck seems more comfortable lately in prestige dramas. So this latest effort occupies an odd space; a genre film that might’ve been huge in a different time, unceremoniously dropped into theaters between the latest Marvel blockbuster and the next Fast & Furious.
If that sounds like the studio didn’t have a lot of faith in Hypnotic, there’s reason for that doubt. The film stars Affleck as Austin police detective Danny Rourke, still grieving from the kidnapping and presumed death of his daughter. Is he ready to return to work? His therapist seems doubtful, but Danny convinces her otherwise. As soon as he’s back on the job, he takes on a call about a bank robbery, only to find a mysterious man (William Fichtner) on a park bench. Everywhere the man goes, people begin acting strangely. Danny follows the man into the bank, and discovers he has the uncanny ability to hypnotice anyone with ease. He can make a woman believe she is suffering from scorching heat, another believe it’s the wrong time of day, and, dangerously, force two police officers to shoot one another. Danny seems to be the only one capable of withstanding the influence, but is nonetheless drawn in when it becomes clear the man’s likely connection to his daughter’s disappearance.
Hypnotic is a quick film, clocking in at around 90-minutes. That much is great, in one sense, because thrillers of this length were a standard but have largely gone bye-bye in recent years. The problem is that Rodriguez and co-writer Max Borenstein have a ton of exposition and messy world-building to establish, which drags the film to a crawl despite some impressive action, always a Rodriguez strength. Danny uncovers an entire society of “hypnotics”, revealed to him by two-bit tarot card reader Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), herself a hypnotic. Diana gets the lion’s share of the film’s many exposition dumps, telling Danny that hypnotics basically have the power of suggestion, and “hypnotic constructs” are the illusions they create within the mind, affecting a person’s reality. Basically they hypnotize you. I mean, their powers are right there in the name. It shouldn’t be that hard to explain.
But then, Hypnotic LOVES the mumbo jumbo. It absolutely thrives on it, because it is it’s own kind of an illusion, convincing the audience they are watching something akin to Christopher Nolan-lite. It is essential to the film that everything that happens be questioned, crafting this vaguely labyrinthine atmosphere where nothing can ever be as it seems. In reality, much of the film is pretty generic, closer to a crime procedural with a dab of the paranormal. You could be watching an episode of Lucifer. Of course, there’s a government conspiracy involved, and a top secret operation that threatens to be unleashed by this mystery man, Dellrayne, the most powerful hypnotic the government ever trained. Isn’t that always the way? They always turn on their makers!
Affleck doesn’t seem particularly invested in his role. He chomps a lot of scenery in the beginning in an Eastwood kind of way, but then slips into vanilla mode when that becomes problematic to the story. Braga is always great at playing the x-factor, and Fichtner remains quietly one of the most menacing actors around. He’s such a great villain, even here with limited dialog to work with, that you kinda don’t want to see him lose, or at least not easily. A raft of characters that ultimately mean nothing and only confuse matters are introduced, like Dayo Okeniyi’s tattooed hacker, or Diana’s reclusive mentor played by Jackie Earle Haley, but they all feel like a means to padding out the runtime.
Hypnotic has all of the pieces to be a much better film than it turns out to be. The pairing of Affleck and Rodriguez alone is interesting to see play out, even if the result is a disappointment. The biggest problem is the script is a disaster and bogs the film down with so much explanatory nonsense that it robs Rodriguez from what he does best; creating vivid, exciting landscapes and crafting visceral action sequences. There are a few moments when Hypnotic seems to have found its groove, but they are just an illusion.
Hypnotic is open in theaters now.