Remember El Mariachi, Desperado, From Dusk till Dawn or The Faculty? These movies were made three decades ago by a filmmaker who was propelled by a burning passion to make cool movies and it didn’t matter if he had enough money to do so, or if they would appeal to wide enough audiences to elevate him to stardom. These movies were great because they felt organically connected to a voice behind the camera; a voice telling you with an almost embarrassing conviction that things you were about to witness were cool, fun and… interesting. Sadly, thirty years is a long time and the same filmmaker who once made these phenomenally magnetizing genre pieces is no longer in attendance.
Hypnotic is the newest film coming from under the fingers of one Robert Rodriguez, a one-time prominent voice of the so-called 90s Indie Revolution which saw filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith or Doug Liman come to the fore of the Hollywood mainstream with their iconoclastic bull-in-a-china-shop approach to filmmaking. However, you’d be hard pressed to find any commonality between what Rodriguez and others were up to at the time and what’s on display here. What this movie is can be simply described as uninspired fare attempting to cash in on the clout of such movies as Christopher Nolan’s Inception and James Mangold’s Identity and a few others, but more on that in a second), with little regard to the simple fact the world has moved on from those movies too.
In all honesty, the simple mention of these two movies – Inception and Identity – is probably more than enough to inform you about what Hypnotic is more or less about. Some would label it as an inconsiderate spoiler, to which I can only replay by conceding that it is indeed a spoiler, but it’s not inconsiderate. In fact, being considerate of other people’s precious time – and we only have a finite amount of it in this life – to dissuade them from watching this utter pile of doodoo. Yes. You read this correctly. Hypnotic, a movie directed and co-written by a guy who once made Desperado, is perversely unwatchable. But not because it is thunderously bad or poorly put together. It is just bland.
So, let’s examine it briefly. The movie opens with Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) being whisked out of a bout of daydreaming (or hypnosis) back to the reality of sitting in his therapist’s couch. We learn he is a police detective who still has not gotten over the disappearance of his daughter and that the spectre of this unsolved mystery looms over his life like an overbearing cloud. We then follow him out into the outside world where he is picked up by his partner Nicks (J.D. Pardo). Together they end up staking out a bank based on an anonymous tip, where Danny notices a mysterious-looking character (William Fichtner) who seems to be able to influence people with his speech and proceeds to rob the bank. Not only that, but this ominous gentleman seems to be somehow connected to the disappearance of Danny’s daughter, which then sends Danny onto a whirlwind quest into the heart of a larger conspiracy, during which he begins to question the very fabric of reality.
Look, it’s almost impossible to write about this movie without ruining the experience. No. Rewind. It’s impossible to write about this movie without ruining the plot, because the film itself does a perfectly good job of ruining your day, as it offers nothing but tedium. In fact, its only saving grace (apart from the fact that Ben Affleck is generally pleasant to observe) is that its running time is short enough, especially when compared to the now well-established baseline of bloated blockbusterism that somehow normalized 120 minutes as the new 90. No. 90 minutes is 90 minutes. Which is how long Hypnotic is.
However, this running time is filled with a dreadful cocktail of uninteresting plot delivered in all-too-frequent bouts of expository info dumps, predominantly by the character played by Alice Draga, who explains to Danny and to the viewers everything there is to explain about hypnotics, secret government programs, fake realities and the fact that William Fichtner’s character is effectively some kind of a black belt in mind-bending, who seems to always be lurking behind the corner like The Terminator or that lethal demonic force from It Follows. But none of this intrigue compels because we have seen it all before. If you have seen Inception, Identity, Trance, Firestarter (whichever version, I am not fussy), Midnight Special, or even The Thirteenth Floor, then you have seen Hypnotic.
Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with pulling references from other movies, and it used to be a tenet of the 90s Indie Revival auteurs like Rodriguez. It was in fact one of the biggest selling points of The Faculty to see how influences picked from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, Invaders from Mars, The Blob and some others could be smelted together, but at least from where I am sitting the main difference was that it was fun to watch it. Hypnotic just isn’t fun. Its intrigue never compelled me to inhabit Danny’s headspace and hold onto his shoulder as he was grappling with reality and attempting to find out what’s going on, which way is up and whether anything he sees is even real. All these influences, picked at least in part from objectively compelling thrillers, fail to emulsify and I can only suggest that it is because the movie as a whole lacks visual flair. In fact, it effectively stages a thriller, that Christopher Nolan or the Wachowskis would have insisted on hinging upon one or two visually arresting set pieces, without ever committing to one. We follow Danny along as he goes from checkpoint to checkpoint, shoots someone here or there and infrequently encounters a special effect for exactly half a second until a twist comes, which anyone who has ever seen a movie before should be able to predict, all to set the stage for a dramatic conclusion at a ranch… which is neither dramatic nor particularly conclusive.
It is as though nobody ever thought it was a good idea to ask if this entire story – from its intrigue to dramatic execution – would hold water as a work of cinema. It doesn’t because the viewer never gets the chance to scratch their own head and wonder what’s going on for long enough to care when the rug is eventually pulled out from under them, or even to lose themselves in the spectacle. Because the spectacle just isn’t there. This whole movie is a string of cutscenes from a video game that doesn’t exist!
In fact, this is probably the only way I can rationalize why Hypnotic is a failure of such magnitude and maybe point the finger at the other co-screenwriter, Max Borenstein whose other credits include all the recent Godzilla movies. Maybe the movie was supposed to be a bit of a genre mashup akin to what Rodriguez was known for before he committed full-time to making movies for his kids and it was hijacked by an art-by-committee crowd of opportunists hoping this would be a great starter to a future franchise or, try not to vomit in my mouth, a shared universe of some kind. Maybe. How else am I to rationalize such an overabundance of plot and exposition crammed into such a tight timeframe that it effectively renders any cinematic set piece impossible to execute upon without having it play over the closing credits or asking whoever produced it for even more money than the reported 65 million, which barely even shows on the screen.
I guess what I am trying to say is don’t watch Hypnotic. Or at least skip watching it in the cinema and wait for it to surface on Amazon Prime or Netflix, which it invariably will in the next few months. You won’t be missing much by watching it on your TV or even on your piddly little iPad. This is a spectacle that fits perfectly onto an 8-inch screen and will perhaps render your pooping time a bit more entertaining. Though, I would then advise to break it up into chunks to reduce the risk of developing haemorrhoids. Maybe it will make the movie better if you purposefully watch it in ten-minute increments while simultaneously attempting to expel faecal matter from your body. Maybe then the process of watching this movie would be imbued with some kind of exhilaration. Maybe Hypnotic is a movie designed to be enjoyed on the toilet. It’s either that or it simply belongs in the toilet instead as an absolute nadir in Robert Rodriguez’s filmmaking catalogue where it will stand as a living vindication of Quentin Tarantino’s long-touted claim that old filmmakers rarely make great films. There are exceptions to this, of course, but Hypnotic shows unequivocally that Robert Rodriguez is not an exception to this rule. He embodies the rule.