Something I noticed when doing some light research before seeing Robert Rodriguez’s Hypnotic: Racer Max is a credited producer on the film. Why was that name familiar to me? Racer Max is Robert’s son, and I remember him being the story credit on The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl many moons ago. Give Rodriguez credit for his versatility: he keeps his family employed and also isn’t afraid to take chances in the realms of both family and adult entertainment.
His wild swings as a director, however, do prompt such grave misfires as Hypnotic, a dour, derivative thriller assembled from the odds and ends of better movies. Film critic Simon Abrams (who was gentler on this film than most) referred to it as a “silly bit of Nolan-sploitation.” That’s appropriate. Christopher Nolan has been around long enough to have significant influence over the mind-bending sci-fi genre, but Hypnotic never justifies warping your perception of reality by offering any kind of cogent explanation for doing so. Rodriguez and cowriter Max Borenstein essentially serve us an intriguing-enough premise, filled with twists and red herrings only to approach the third act with such an apathetic resolve. The film might as well end with a title card that reads “you figure it out” before the credits roll.
The film follows Daniel Rourke (Ben Affleck), a morose detective whose seven-year-old daughter Minnie (Hala Finley) was abducted, resulting in the end of his marriage. All that’s left of his daughter is a mysterious polaroid with the caption “Find Lev Dellrayne” written on it. After recounting these details to his therapist, he’s picked up by his partner Nicks (J. D. Pardo) en route to a potential bank robbery. At the location, they see an elusive man (William Fichtner) using some form of mind control in order to both successfully conduct this heist and distract police with simple verbal commands.
Rourke learns from Diana Cruz (Alice Braga) that this is the work of hypnotic constructs, tactics used by hypnotists trained by a secretive government “Division” that wants to control people’s minds and actions. Rourke himself is immune to their control, even though Diana is a “level 4” hypnotic (the levels themselves or how people evolve their ability to use these powers is never explained). So, Diana shuffles Rourke around Austin in order to obtain clues, as well as involve others such as a conspiracy theorist (Dayo Okeniyi) and Jackie Early Haley in this mad-dash of convolution.
Like a song that sounds so much like another that it goes beyond the realm of sampling, Hypnotic is a cinematic gumbo of other plot-points and attributes of better movies. There’s echoes of Memento in its structure. Its reliance on symbolism in the form of dominos is a lot like that stainless steel spinning top in Inception. The landscape of a dissolving reality recalls Limitless. And the list goes on. Hypnotic‘s 94-minute runtime essentially clues us into the fast-moving nature of this film, but by the second act, if the simultaneous overabundance of exposition and lack of concretion hasn’t alienated you, the sullen presentation of it all will.
While Rodriguez’s use of effects is quite good — such as the warping of railyards and busy streets, rendering their appearance akin to M.C. Escher art — the tone of the project leaves much to be desired. Affleck looks completely bored, as if he’s hit the direct-to-video phase of his career. He recites his lines with a lack of affect, and has an inert presence that’s a total contrast from the enigmatic side of him we saw in Air less than two months ago. The bulk of supporting players add very little, although nobody broods quite like Fichtner, especially when given little to do.
All of this converges to make Hypnotic a puzzle of confusion that doesn’t inspire you to solve it. The film offers a mid-credits scene that simultaneously adds to said puzzle and lays the groundwork for a sequel. Rodriguez is nothing if not an optimist, always thinking ahead. Here’s hoping he was too preoccupied with whatever he has next on his agenda, and it’s a hell of a lot better, and that’s why Hypnotic is as half-baked as it is.
NOTE: Hypnotic is now playing exclusively in theaters.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Alice Braga, William Fichtner, Hala Finley, J. D. Pardo, Dayo Okeniyi, Jeff Fahey, and Jackie Earle Haley. Directed by: Robert Rodriguez.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!