THE STORY – When a detective learns that his missing daughter and a string of high-profile bank robberies might be connected, he must go on a mind-bending journey to find his daughter and stop the secret government agency behind the madness.
THE CAST – Ben Affleck, Alice Braga, J. D. Pardo, Hala Finley, Dayo Okeniyi, Jeff Fahey, Jackie Earle Haley & William Fichtner
THE TEAM – Robert Rodriguez (Director/Writer) & Max Borenstein (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 94 Minutes
Director Robert Rodriquez and star Ben Affleck both have had quite interesting careers. Rodriquez’s filmography is varied, filled with hyper-violent grindhouse films, a popular children’s film franchise, and he even has made a pitstop in a galaxy far, far away. Affleck’s acting career alone could tell endless stories from the many highs and lows he’s experienced. His filmmaking career, on the other hand, is far more consistent. Affleck has reached a certain level of quality in his films some filmmakers would dare to admit they might be envious of. It’s fascinating, to say the least, that these two creatives with such varied styles would want to collaborate with one another. It’s even more surprising given the type of film “Hypnotic” unfortunately is, or at least desperately aspires to be.
“Hypnotic” follows worn-down detective Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck), who is reeling from the kidnapping of his young daughter four years ago. As he drowns himself in his work, Rourke begins to investigate a series of bank robberies that start to have him questioning reality and, more importantly, himself. Along the way, a psychic, played by (Alice Braga) joins his investigation and starts to unravel a deeper conspiracy at the heart of the case which ties back to Rourke’s daughter’s kidnapping. There’s intrigue, telekinetic-esque superpowers, and a very generic menace (played by William Fichtner) constantly on the hunt for our protagonists as they go on the run to get to the heart of what’s actually at play here.
While this has all the makings of a mind-twisting, thrilling blockbuster on the level of what Christopher Nolan typically delivers; unfortunately, Rodriguez fails in his execution of the high-concept material to deliver to substantially exciting film. His latest film wants to be a science fiction, Hitchcockian thriller. Still, his direction is incredibly amiss and not well suited for the material that desperately needed a bigger budget to fulfill its visual promise and give us something entertaining. None of Rodriquez’s signature style or flair is apparent besides occasional humor that rings flat. His scrappy filmmaking style, which endeared him to audiences early on in his career, is present, but it clashes with the screenplay’s more refined, grander concepts, especially when the visual effects come into play.
Say what you want about films like “Machete” or “Sin City,” but at least those films have their own distinct personality. Rodriguez knew what he wanted to achieve without trying to replicate what makes far better films more special. “Hypnotic” is just a visually drab sight for the eyes with spotty visual effects. Certain people and settings are altered to display the hypnotic powers some of the characters possess, but instead of looking like a giant blockbuster worthy of the big screen, it instead comes across as a B-movie straight from the 90s or early 2000s. Some sequences look good, but then there are a few heavy CGI-infused scenes involving train yards and tall urban buildings, which are warped to look as if the settings are shifting. This is one of the ways this film cannot escape the Nolan-wannabe allegations, as it looks clearly like the Paris sequence in “Inception” every time except nowhere near as dazzling.
The cast, for the most part, is serviceable throughout. Sadly, Affleck is mostly sleepwalking in the lead role, as Rourke is an incredibly bland protagonist that is as interesting as wet paper. It’s hard to tell if Affleck’s going through the motions or the screenplay is so flawed that he cannot act around it. It’s not like Affleck can’t deliver a good performance when called upon; we all know the talent this man can bring to even the most critically disdained projects. Affleck’s performance in “Hypnotic” is a stark drop off from the fun scene-stealing performances he’s recently delivered in “Air” and “The Last Duel.” Braga does most of the heavy lifting in the film as a lot of “Hypnotic’s” plot depends more on Braga than Affleck. However, her character’s function in the film is nothing more than an exposition-delivering machine, which is, sadly, most of her dialogue. Braga’s delivery of such uninteresting exposition keeps you still somewhat engaged with an overly convoluted plot that doesn’t fully come into focus until the third act. Even Fichtner is tedious to watch as the film’s antagonist. His role is incredibly one note, bringing nothing to the film in the way of character or presentation. Jackie Earle Haley shows up for a brief, fun three minutes of screen time. Then it’s quickly ruined for a reveal that does nothing but set up an average chase sequence. The screenplay’s need to keep audiences guessing is another hindrance to an intriguing premise. Multiple story revelations try to outdo one another in an attempt to fool audiences into thinking this story is multifaceted. In reality, everything is predictable, especially by the time you get to the main plot revelation.
“Hypnotic” is just a disappointing feature on all fronts. Rodriguez can clearly make entertaining films, so what exactly happened here? It’s respectable to see him attempting to go out of his wheelhouse, but retaining not a single trait of what makes his films unique is baffling. The idea of having Affleck star in a sci-fi thriller by Rodriguez should’ve been one of the year’s cinematic highlights, but by the fifteen-minute mark, the novelty of it wears incredibly thin. Again, luckily for audiences, the film will dully hypnotize you for only ninety-three minutes.