Writer-director Robert Rodriguez's latest feature, Hypnotic, has many elements that may excite one to dive into this sci-fi-constructed world. There’s the stylish involvement of Rodriguez himself, actors like Ben Affleck and Alice Braga, and a lot of concepts that were born out of films and projects like Inception, Firestarter, and The Matrix that have been well received. When the film decides to settle itself, some of the multitudes of ideas bear some fruit. The problem lies in drawing from so much like a buffet where the twists, turns, and revelations become too much for Hypnotic to wrangle coherently.
In the first scene, we enter a room where a police detective named Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) speaks to a therapist. Vividly, he recalls the day he last saw his daughter, Minnie (Ionie Nieves), before being abducted. Danny feels immersive guilt as he takes his eye off her for a split second, and then it happens. This also leads to the dissolution of his marriage – it’s all bad. But there is also something weird associated with the kidnapper – he has no recollection of doing it or where Minnie was taken.
Outside of the mind-melding hijinks, Rodriguez and co-writer Max Borenstein build a good base for a father who will do anything possible to find his daughter. Affleck takes on the personality of a grizzled and somewhat ornery man with one purpose. This runs into an extraordinary instance – Rourke and his partner Nicks (J.D. Pardo) receive an anonymous tip that a bank will get robbed. During a stakeout, they see a man named Dellrayne (William Fichtner) who, with an utterance of a few words, gets people to do his bidding. Yes, akin to a Jedi mind trick.
However, there are no republics or lightsabers here. In this world, there are people called Hypnotics – specialists that can influence the thoughts and reality of others through normal conversation. This basis is simple, but things get much more complicated when Rourke finds the anon tipper and psychic Diana (Alice Braga). The prospect of one man with this infinite power is something to reckon with enough. Then, we find out the government might be involved in a conspiratorial rabbit hole that reveals itself in a way you see coming. Diana herself has the ability, but there’s something about Danny that doesn’t leave him as susceptible to attacks (but maybe not from Dellrayne himself?).
That’s not to say Hypnotic can’t be fun when it involves the action scenes that are sprinkled throughout the exposition dumps. What hampers it is that the film banks on all these explanations to shock you for the eventual reveals. Towards its latter half, a plethora of unveilings wants to make you question the validity of what you see on screen – almost like a wraparound. If you look back at a composition like Inception, it committed to explaining its main mind-altering idea to the stretches of the imagination. It made its emotional story the core to hold it all together.
Hypnotic throws as much of its tricks at you and unfortunately fails to land the emotive DNA it hopes to make you level with. Sure, Danny has the main quest to fulfill, but a lot of his sense of personal history gets called into question. Affleck’s character almost stumbles into this great power he has within, and it doesn’t feel as revelatory or enthralling as it should. More so, a way to move into an abyss, foreshadowing things to come. The film is fast-paced and has many tricks up its sleeve – but you’ll wish only a couple were chosen.