Director Robert Rodriguez is anything but unreliable, and he proves it again with his latest narrative feature, Hypnotic. Channeling the mind-bending properties of thrillers like Inception, Shutter Island, and Memento, Hypnotic similarly aims to trick its audience with subversive plot twists and a world that is not quite what it seems. Ben Affleck plays Detective Danny Rourke, whose abducted daughter, Minnie, appears to play a mysterious and crucial role in a massive conspiracy originating at an equally strange bank robbery. Incredibly, the perpetrator of the crime unleashes mind control to carry out his plan and escape, and Rourke follows him, becoming enveloped in a secret ploy that could lead him back to his child.
For a movie like Hypnotic, the script and its story are the most integral building blocks for creating something that people will enjoy and hopefully not cause to scratch their heads in confusion and bewilderment; make it too convoluted and risk viewers becoming so distraught by the overly ambitious attempt at cinematic subterfuge, à la Tenet, or make it too simplistic and foster undesirable predictability. Hypnotic adequately toes the line, delivering a coherent plot that one can follow if they’re paying close attention but mixing in enough unpredictable turns to keep the story fresh and exciting. The main problem is that the script partially accomplishes this with excess exposition, and its focus on crafting something simultaneously entertaining and mysterious takes away from some of its other elements.
Affleck is okay but far from the top of his game, where he plays a forlorn, brooding police detective. For all his might, Rodriguez cannot mine a truly inspiring performance from Affleck here, whose character ideally demands a much more comprehensive range of emotions than we see in the film. Alice Braga plays his accomplice Diana Cruz and is usually far more expressive and compelling. And, unfortunately, much of the dialogue feels stiff and procedural, once again a seeming afterthought other than in several expository scenes.
Regardless of the bilateral nature of the script, Hypnotic paces well, and the mind-altering special effects are effective and provocative, even though they are too few and far between for such a project. And while it misses the mark on characters, natural dialogue, and its contemporaries’ exceptionally memorable action sequences, it excels in executing a fun mystery-thriller that is never too difficult or disjointed to follow. If Hypnotic existed in a cinematic landscape devoid of the famous works of Nolan and films like The Matrix and Source Code, it would be the talk of the town. In 2023, however, it is simply an acceptable and accessible entry in a growing subgenre of action-thriller that seeks to challenge the modern movie-goer.