What if you mixed Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure with a little bit of Inception and topped it off with a dash of Firestarter? Sounds pretty good, right? But, oops, you then decide to let Robert Rodriguez direct. Now, what you instead get is a dead-on-arrival sci-fi clunker in the vein of something like the dire Nic Cage movie Next, or some other forgotten piece of genre detritus. Regrettably, that’s where Hypnotic’s meager legacy is headed.
The film opens with Austin Police Detective Daniel Rourke (Ben Affleck) describing to his shrink, once again, the trauma of his daughter’s sudden disappearance from a playground, which in turn led — of course — to the dissolution of his marriage. Soon enough, he and his partner receive a tip about a bank robbery that ends up being his gateway into a vast conspiracy involving powerful psychics and his own haunted past.
What follows that setup is a massively dull procedural that, in execution, sounds like it was written by roughly a 12-year-old, peppered with cliched shady government organizations bearing names like “The Division” and “Project Domino,” and littered with clumsy exposition and one limp attempt at a plot twist after another in lieu of any actual investigating or suspense-building. The film’s narrative beats look something like this: Daniel goes somewhere, meets someone, and they give a long speech about the plot; then he goes somewhere else, where a third person tells him what’s really happening, and so on and so on.
What’s worse is that all this eventually leads to some reality-bending shenanigans, but — without giving too much away — the incredibly over-explained final third basically renders the entire thing moot and leaves no tangible foothold for the story; if anything could be happening at any time, what exactly are we supposed to care about? And to make matters worse, Affleck looks visibly bored during all of it; it’s almost like if you squint hard, you can see him morosely shaking his head as he describes the experience to Matt Damon on the set of Air.
Rodriguez long ago squandered much of his early promise as a scrappy director of low-budget genre films, mostly due to his insistence on factory-tooling everything in what continues to look like his backyard, this despite having a studio complex in Austin, Texas (where much of this was filmed). Yet, there’s not an ounce of style or virtuosity here. Flat, handheld compositions give way to televisual close-ups, all with a muted color palette perfectly suited to smooth out buffering on whichever streaming service you might end up watching this. Hypnotic is ultimately an entirely perfunctory exercise, seemingly crafted solely because Rodriguez could get it financed and sold, and absent even an iota of inspiration. It’s one thing to be silly, but you can’t be soulless, too.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 19.