"What you're seeing isn't real."
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez has played around with various genres for most of his career. Since hitting the scene with his Mexico trilogy starting in the early 1990s, the Texas-born helmer has remade the Western, Horror, and Crime styles to reflect a modern take. He has dabbled in science fiction for years but, until now, has yet to quite perfect a unique perspective on the blending of science fiction and the present day.
His new venture in "Hypnotic" still misses the mark, but it's a worthy attempt.
Ben Affleck stars in "Hypnotic" as Danny Rourke, an Austin-based police detective living with the sins of his past. Haunted by his young daughter's disappearance, his job and personal life are affected. Now divorced, Danny seeks help from trained professionals and participates in meditative therapy to unlock his emotions to remember his daughter. In the meantime, her kidnapper has been caught, remembers nothing about his crime, and Danny's daughter is presumed dead.
Now cleared for duty, Danny immediately finds himself investigating a prolific bank robber named Dellrayne (William Fichtner), a man with a talent for hypnotizing innocent bystanders to get what he wants. Danny might have met his match as the tables are turned on the detective rather than the criminal. Danny enlists the help of fortune teller and con artist Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), who convinces him that hypnotic constructs might be the answer to catching Dellrayne.
Diana is a Hypnotic and suspects Dellrayne to be one as well. A Hypnotic is similar to an expert in telepathy, but they can reshape reality. It appears Dellrayne uses this skill to commit his crimes by putting his prey in a trance to his advantage. For the sake of this movie, let's call it a superpower, which Rodriguez presents it as being. With the help of Dellrayne's superpower, Danny becomes embroiled in a controversy that ends with him wanted for murdering his partner, and now goes on the run with Diana.
Of course, for some reason, Danny has a psychic block built into his system that prevents Hypnotics from forcing him into their trance. Hypnotics have the ability to control worldwide news, politics, and everyone but Danny. Danny and Diana work together to uncover the clues of the bank heists and track Dellrayne.
But can Danny trust her? Not all is what it seems, and Danny's identity might impact his present-day troubles.
For a science fiction action thriller directed by Robert Rodriguez, "Hypnotic" plays too close to the cliche chest. It has the makings of a great thriller, but the execution is not up to par with similar films of the genre. The film borrows elements from better science fiction thrillers like "Inception" and "Minority Report," but attempts to keep the story grounded in the present day. For reference, 2002's "Minority Report" also leaned heavily on Tom Cruise's detective character haunted by his child's kidnapping and how it affects his life when he becomes the man hunted by his former coworkers. "Hypnotic" is too similar and doesn't break away from banality enough to stand on its own two feet.
Without futuristic settings for the type of superpower these Hypnotics possess, it isn't easy to believe in the story at play here. After some screen time, the plot seems outrageous and even foolish. While the stakes might be high in catching Dellrayne and uncovering the ultimate truth, the science fiction section of the movie outweighs the thriller underneath, making for a ridiculous plot device that never seems to work as it should. Danny also buys in quickly and too early into the idea of Hypnotics, without disbelief or asking many questions. It's alarming how fast the story progresses.
Spoiler Alert: the ending goes into some far-fetched territory.
But this is a Robert Rodriguez picture, which means its slick nature makes for a beautifully shot project despite a lackluster script. Using a location like Austin as a backdrop is nothing new for Rodriguez, yet there are pieces of this film that speak to the auteur's strengths. The rare visual effects are dazzling, and the family affair in making the film is a welcome addition to Rodriguez's growing catalog. (Rodriguez directs, co-wrote the screenplay, edits, produces, and is credited as a co-Cinematographer while his son Rebel composes the music and his other son Racer also produces).
"Hypnotic" is just not a worthwhile endeavor for audiences as the actors almost seem to not believe in the material. There's a better film somewhere here, but it's not the one we've been given.
Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟