Hypnotic (United States, 2023)

May 16, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Hypnotic Poster

This is what happens when a less-talented director tries to make a Christopher Nolan movie. The convoluted result – low on thrills, lower on coherence, and lowest on acting – is more confusing than compelling. Boiled down to the essential details, there are some interesting ideas here, but the manner in which they are developed is sloppy and haphazard. This feels like something that director Robert Rodriguez slapped together while waiting to learn whether a sequel to Battle Angel was going to be commissioned. The casting of Ben Affleck in the lead, while giving him a “name” for the marquee, was a bad choice from the beginning. Affleck is at his best playing wisecracking supporting roles (like in the recent Air, which Affleck also directed) and at his worst as an action hero. He sleepwalks his way through Hypnotic, doing little to rouse the audience from its own slumber while failing to generate any sparks with his co-star, Alice Braga.

Hypnotic introduces us to taciturn Austin police detective Danny Rourke (Affleck), who is returning to work following of leave of absence necessitated by the kidnapping (and presumed murder) of his seven-year-old daughter. The crime, which occurred while Rourke was watching Minnie, wrecked his marriage and left him groping for answers. The child’s body was never found, putting him in a state of limbo, and he decrees that the only way of staying sane is to get back to work.

His first case involves a bank robbery and, in the course of the investigation, he learns about the existence of “hypnotics” – people with Jedi-like mind powers who can create “constructs” in the minds of victims. While in that state, they become pawns, sometimes unwittingly committing crimes. After teaming up with a tarot card-reader/strip mall psychic, Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), Danny discovers that he is at least partially immune to the activities of hypnotics. He and Diana are soon on the trail of Lev Dell Rayne (William Fichtner, whose career is littered with these kinds of characters), the strongest and most dangerous of the hypnotics…and one who may be linked to Minnie’s disappearance.

One of the problems with a story like this is that it’s built into the premise that there are going to be mind-bending twists and attacks on perceptions of reality. The challenge for a director is to make those work narratively. Christopher Nolan has proven the ability to do this (most notably in Inception, but also to a degree in some of his other films). Rodriguez seems to be striving for a Nolan-esque approach but he misses the target. From the beginning, his screenplay feels contrived. Nevertheless, to keep viewers off-balance (and perhaps prevent them from thinking too hard), Rodriguez pulls the rug out from under the audience on a fairly regular basis, but the law of diminishing returns is in play. I can’t decide whether the problem with Hypnotic is that it wasn’t given a running length necessary to really explore the details of its world/culture or whether the inclusion of low-energy action scenes dumbed down the rest of the project.

As it is, the movie is short enough that it doesn’t invite boredom and Rodriguez can’t be accused of padding out the length to satisfy his ego (something increasingly common in 21st century motion pictures). But the end result lacks heft. Even once the underlying truth has been decoded, the stakes never seem big enough and the threat posed by the hypnotics remains fuzzy. There’s a sense that Rodriguez has a wider, deeper story to tell but commercial necessities prevent that. The film’s likely box office failure – it’s all-but-DOA due to minimal marketing and poor title recognition – will doom the potential development of additional installments. In the end, all we’ll be left with is Hypnotic and this single movie isn’t sufficiently engaging to work as more than a throw-away addition to some streaming service’s catalog.

Hypnotic (United States, 2023)

Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: 2023-05-12
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence)
Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1