Taking on many aspects of the filmmaking process, from editing, cinematography, and production design, writer and director Robert Rodriguez was once referred to as a “one-man-film-crew”. His latest piece is a departure from the grindhouse style he is associated with but it’s still very much his movie, his co-writer Max Borenstein adapting from a story Rodriguez was developing over twenty years ago. Hypnotic is a sci-fi action thriller set in Austin, Texas where detective Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) is reeling after his young daughter is kidnapped from a local park. As he investigates a bank heist carried out by a man known as Dellrayne (William Fichtner), he discovers a shocking link between the master criminal and his missing child.
Beginning as a straight-up police mystery flick, there’s an enjoyable tone and texture that is a throwback to genre films of the 80s or 90s. With his chunky leather jacket, chiselled features and five o’clock shadow, Rourke is the type of troubled protagonist that feels of a different era, and the opening sequence is engaging and exhilarating as he attempts to foil a slickly orchestrated robbery. As the plot thickens and the science fiction elements come into play; villains using a type of telepathy to control their victims, the narrative begins to lose its way with a series of tricks and tropes dragged and dropped from popular blockbusters. That’s not to say storytelling can’t be far-fetched, but the rug pulls in this script are preposterous and quite poorly executed.
Behind the camera, Affleck has become an increasingly accomplished filmmaker and rarely puts a foot wrong but as an actor, his choices are often questionable. He really revels in the broodiness of this role, who would’ve worked perfectly well in a different movie, but his straight-edged portrayal becomes imbalanced against the silliness of the story around him. Alice Braga joins him as an expert ally in his investigation, but her character is little more than a vehicle for exposition, explaining the intricacies of mind control as they fumble from one perilous situation to the next.
Hypnotic gives skilled director Rodriguez the opportunity to have fun with some impressive set-pieces, even if his influences are worn a little too proudly on his sleeve; think a David Fincher lead trapped in a Christopher Nolan jigsaw puzzle picture. With his technical prowess paired with Affleck’s entertaining turn as a grizzled cop fighting his demons, the film makes for passable popcorn escapism…but the rehashed screenplay probably should’ve stayed in drafts.