The idea for Hypnotic conceptualized around the time director Robert Rodriguez was filming Spy Kids 2, which is what he told the audience at Sunday night’s premiere screening. His love of Austin and SXSW is what brought him back 30 years after El Mariachi. This was a full-circle moment for him, and he revealed that is this film is a work in progress. After watching it, Hypnotic still needs work in order to progress because this is all over the place. Written by Rodriguez (who also provided the score) and Matt Borenstein, the pic stars Ben Affleck, Alice Braga, William Fichtner, Jeff Fahey and Dayo Okeniyi.
Hypnotic starts with Daniel Rourke (Affleck), a cop in a therapy session. He’s dissociating, thinking about his missing daughter, but is brought back to reality when the therapist calls out to him. The trauma lies with the disappearance of his child in the park — when he turned away for one second, she was gone — so he harbors deep regret that he wasn’t more aware of his surroundings. With the case still open, the assumption is the daughter has been killed, but her body hasn’t been found.
When he’s done with therapy, Rourke meets his partner to stake out a possible robbery at the Bank of Austin, led by a mysterious man Liv Del Rayne (Fichtner), who they spot talking to a woman on a bench. With the cops unaware of what’s been said, the woman suddenly complains that it’s too hot, starts taking off her clothing and walks right into traffic, causing a pile-up that leads Rourke to finding out there is a connection between Rayne and his daughter’s disappearance. To find out more, Rourke seeks out Diana (Alice Braga), a psychic and hypnotic who can alter human reality with her words. She informs him that the man he’s looking for is one of the most powerful hypnotics on the planet, who cannot be caught with mere cop tactics. With this newfound information, two team up to get to the bottom of why Rayne has Rourke in his crosshairs, which might be the key to finding his kid.
Take Christopher Nolan’s Inception, mixed with a little bit of Total Recall, sprinkle in Satoshi Kon’s Paprika and some noir beats a la North by Northwest, put in a blender, and you have Hypnotic. Rodriguez always approaches the genre in creative and inventive ways, consistently coming up with world-expansive concepts to explore, in addition to being one of the most gifted auteurs in Hollywood. He is a big fan of giving the audience details up front and letting the characters run wild with it, and that’s the most exciting element of his narrative style. His direction always has been his most commanding attribute. Science fiction and magical realism are his groove, and he knows how to visually materialize these ideals in a balanced way.
However, more often than not, his writing lacks the cohesion needed for strong storytelling. There is a tendency to overstuff with so many details that it borders on incomprehensible. Twist and turns are a staple of engaging suspense films, and collecting breadcrumbs to piece together the logic is what makes the genre so much fun. But there is such a thing about having too many twists and revelations, and in Hypnotic your head will spin a full 360 degrees trying to keep up every new development that’s been presented. This keeps going right until the credits roll. When it was over, I had a realization that so much time was spent on collecting and processing new details that I forgot to enjoy myself.
Also, Affleck as a lead is not helping Hypnotic’s cause as sleepwalks through this. There’s no emotion, no inflection in his voice or tone; it’s all wooden and flat. Had the actor seemed more enthusiastic about the material that would have elevated the experience, but he never puts in enough energy to anchor the eccentricity of the story. Braga is the only one bringing tenacity to this, and maybe if she were the lead, I’d have an entirely different opinion.
I don’t want to be too harsh because the cut of Hypnotic from Sunday night is not a finished product. To its credit, the movie is never boring and has a solid concept that is solid enough to get behind, but it’s in desperate need of heavy tweaking to find some middle ground. Then again, I am don’t see what more that can be added to this film that won’t extend it beyond its current 2½-hour runtime.