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‘Hypnotic’ Review: Ben Affleck Gets Twisted Up in Robert Rodriguez’s Wannabe Christopher Nolan Brain-Bender



The playfulness and renegade B-movie spirit that has invigorated much of Robert Rodriguez’s one-man-band filmography is largely missing from the soullessly slick Hypnotic, an absence heightened by an ultra-serious Ben Affleck in familiar Guru of Glum mode. If you can get past all that, the pacy, high-concept action thriller is reasonably engrossing, albeit with a faint whiff of mothballs that betrays its 20-year-old roots. Rodriguez says he was inspired by a re-release of Vertigobut the result feels less like Hitchcock than an ersatz Christopher Nolan mindfuck, with a dash of The Matrix.

Sharing screenwriter duties with MonsterVerse vet Max Borenstein, the director is at his best here with the elaborate set-up, keeping parallel narrative paths moving through constant reality shifts before gradually revealing how they intersect. But once that happens, Rodriguez boxes himself into a corner, with nowhere to go besides a sentimental anticlimax. At least that appears to be the case, until a sinister mid-credits sequence (is there no escaping these now?) points the way to a sequel for which there’s unlikely to be great demand.


The Bottom Line

Distracting enough, if less than mesmerizing.

Release date: Friday, May 12
Cast: Ben Affleck, Alice Braga, William Fichtner, JD Pardo, Hala Finney, Dayo Okeniyi, Jackie Earle Haley
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Screenwriters: Robert Rodriguez, Max Borenstein

Rated R, 1 hour 33 minutes

The movie screened at South by Southwest earlier this year as a work-in-progress and opens in US theaters May 12, ahead of its international premiere in a midnight slot at the Cannes Film Festival.

Affleck plays Detective Danny Rourke, introduced zoning out during a therapy session as he broods over the unsolved abduction of his 7-year-old daughter, Minnie. While the perpetrator was apprehended, he pleaded not guilty due to mental incapacity and claimed to have no memory of the incident. But Danny remains convinced Minnie is alive and being held somewhere, a suspicion heightened while Rourke and his partner Nicks (JD Pardo) are investigating a series of bank heists and discover a possible link to the missing girl.

The shady figure believed to be instrumental in the robberies is a man identified as Dellrayne (William Fichtner). In a safe deposit box at one of the banks, Rourke finds a polaroid of Minnie with the words “Find Lev Dell Rayne” scrawled across the bottom. That sets off an obsessive hunt when Dellrayne appears to vanish into thin air off the top of a tall building after using some kind of mind control on Rourke’s law enforcement colleagues. But the chase becomes a game of cat and mouse as Dellrayne, in turn, begins pursuing Rourke, seemingly with lethal intent.

Accompanied by an eerie, shuddering score by the director’s son, Rebel Rodriguez, those opening scenes unfold briskly, with some viscerally staged action and plenty of intrigue planted around the enigmatic figure of Dellrayne. The mystery man gives Fichtner a welcome opportunity to show what a commanding villain he can be — suave, composed and soft-spoken, taking a wry hint of pleasure in the chaos and violence he creates around him and making unwitting strangers his pawns.

Clues point Rourke towards Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), a storefront psychic who fills the detective in on the phenomenon of hypnotics. Unlike telepaths, who can read minds, hypnotics have the power to control them, reshaping a person’s reality and redirecting their impulses. She explains that Dellrayne was the star recruit of a clandestine government operation known as The Division, designed to exploit the abilities of hypnotics as a defense tool. But Dellrayne went rogue, and Diana herself fled the program.

When Dellrayne uses his powers to incriminate Rourke and Diana in a killing, the two hotfoot it over the border to Mexico, seeking help from various associates until Dellrayne inevitably catches up with them. But in one of many twists, it emerges that the icy dude in the sharp suits is not the only one with mind-control skills. There are also disclosures concerning “Domino,” a high-priority Division project involving a hypnotic with powers that make Dellrayne look like an amateur.

At the advance New York screening this reviewer attended, a recorded announcement from Rodriguez urged us not to spoil the surprises for future audiences, and rightly so. Suffice it to say that the Division has mechanisms to reset hypnotics’ minds, which means the narrative rug keeps getting pulled out from under the audience as the story’s reality keeps shifting and people are revealed to be not what they seem. Not that it’s particularly difficult to follow, even with the frequent lapses in logic.

The real problem is that the more Rodriguez and Borenstein’s screenplay pieces the puzzle together, the more pedestrian it becomes, leaving you with more bandwidth to notice the lackluster dialogue. By the time an elusive character finally appears and the emotional stakes in theory should be raised, the central idea of ​​malleable reality that can be bent at will dilute our investment in anyone’s fate. The conclusion feels rushed, soft and unpersuasive.

Affleck gets the job done with stoical focus and a heavy pall of sorrow. But even beyond the understandably burdened nature of a man broken by loss, there’s a torpid quality to his performance, though he’s less lethargic than in snoozes like Live by Night or Deep Water.

More sparks are generated by Braga, who keeps us — and from a certain point, Rourke — guessing about where her character’s true loyalties lie. She makes Diana warm, but also savvy and resourceful, not to mention handy with a baseball bat in a Mexican border-town chase in which Dellrayne — or whatever his name really is — mobilizes a mob of locals against them. Braga, Fichtner, and in a smaller role, Dayo Okeniyi as River, an ace hacker living off the grid in a ramshackle compound, provide the movie with much of its juice.

Shot by Pablo Berron and Rodriguez on location in Austin and on the backlot at the director’s Troublemaker Studios, Hypnotic features some cool VFX sequences, notably when Dellrayne disorients Rourke with elaborate constructs that turn his visual field into a maze. But the movie’s look is otherwise unexceptional, with a bland gloss barely distinguishable from the average made-for-streaming feature. It’s watchable enough, but ultimately has the counterfeit feel of a filmmaker dabbling in a genre that’s not a natural fit and finding little joy in it.

Full credits

Distribution: Ketchup Entertainment
Production companies: Solstice Studios, Ingenious, Studio 8, Double R
Cast: Ben Affleck, Alice Braga, William Fichtner, JD Pardo, Hala Finney, Dayo Okeniyi, Jeff Fahey, Zane Holtz, Ruben Javier Caballero, Jackie Earle Haley
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Screenwriters: Robert Rodriguez, Max Borenstein
Producers: Mark Gill, Guy Botham, Lisa Ellzey, Jeff Robinov, John Graham, Racer Max, Robert Rodriguez
Executive producers: James Portolese, Joshua Throne, Maitreya Yasuda, Crystal Bourbeau, Vincent Bruzzese, Beth Bruckner O’Brien, Peter Touche, Christelle Conan, Gareth West, Christopher Milburn, Arthur Galstian, Vahan Yepremyan, Mark Williams, Walter Josten, Patrick Josten , Jordan Wagner
Directors of photography: Pablo Berron, Robert Rodriguez
Production designers: Steve Joyner, Caylah Eddleblute
Costume designer: Nina Proctor
Music: Rebel Rodriguez
Editor: Robert Rodriguez
Visual effects supervisor: Joel Sevilla
Casting: Mary Vernieu, Michelle Wade Byrd

Rated R, 1 hour 33 minutes

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