Hypnotic opens with a scene that promises a lot of fun. Detective Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) has gotten a tip that there’s going to be a bank robbery. He shows up to investigate, only to discover that the heist’s mastermind, Lev Dellrayne (William Fichtner), is hypnotizing people to do his bidding. He hypnotizes one woman to create a distraction, hypnotizes a bank teller to close her window, hypnotizes the guards to stand down, and so on. Rourke doesn’t know how or why this is happening, but he intends to find out. That’s a phenomenal premise for a movie. Unfortunately, Hypnotic doesn’t quite stick with it, leading to a massive letdown.
Rourke is the stereotypical tormented cop. His young daughter was abducted and no one knows where she is. After intercepting the safe deposit box Dellrayne was seeking, he finds a picture of the little girl inside. It’s clear the thief had something to do with her disappearance, perhaps even hypnotizing her abductor. Tracking the clues leads him to Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), a low-rent psychic working from a cramped storefront. She’s essentially walking exposition, as most of her dialogue entails explaining to Rourke how extreme hypnotism works and what she knows about Dellrayne.
I should not go any further into the plot. Hypnotic wants to be an Inception-like mind-bending thriller. Films of this sort always have a few tricks up their sleeve, which is definitely the case here. Those tricks detract from the interest generated by the initial concept. Director/co-writer Robert Rodriguez continually changes the rules, so that whatever you think you’re seeing is not the way it really is. (That extends to the mid-credits scene designed to set up a sequel.) Repeatedly pulling the rug out from under the audience is not the same as good plotting. Taking this approach requires a very awkward denouement that finds one character literally stopping to explain what we’ve just watched.
For about 15 minutes in the middle, it looked as though Hypnotic was going to redeem itself. The first big twist pays off at the start of the third act. Even though you can see it coming a mile away, Rodriguez shows the details of it, and they’re really cool. The silliness that has crept in up to that point suddenly seems like it’s leading somewhere amazing. Then the story goes back into silly mode, throwing out more twists that continue to chip away at the idea of a bad man hypnotizing people to commit crimes on his behalf.
What’s most disappointing here is that the movie contains several aspects that suggest real promise. Fichtner is always fun to watch, and the way he portrays Dellrayne’s hypnosis technique is suitably sinister. There’s a cool chase scene where Dellrayne hypnotizes Rourke into thinking the landscape is changing. The ideas about how hypnotism could be misused are intriguing. Stuff like this pops up enough that the film is certainly watchable, if not entirely successful.
Hypnotic would have benefitted from the offbeat visual touches Rodriquez brought to Alita: Battle Angel and Sin City. Conversely, he could have infused it with the self-aware humor of Machete. The director plays it straight and serious, though, and that’s fundamentally at odds with the loopy nature of the concept.
out of four
Hypnotic is rated R for violence. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.