May 12, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Culture Representation: Taking place in Austin, Texas, the sci-fi action flick “Hypnotic” features a white and Latino cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A police detective, who is searching for his missing 10-year-old daughter, encounters dangerous “hypnotics”: people with the ability to control other people’s minds through hypnotism.
Culture Audience: “Hypnotic” will appeal primarily to fans of star Ben Affleck, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and convoluted sci-movies that are weak imitations of other sci-fi movies about alternate realities.
No amount of hypnotism can convince viewers with basic quality standards that “Hypnotic” is a good movie. Ben Affleck’s robotic acting makes this dull and witless sci-fi mystery even worse. One of the most irritating things about this misfire of a movie is how it contradicts and undermines the story’s world building many times with avoidable plot holes—just for the sake of adding illogical plot twists.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez (who co-wrote the abysmal “Hypnotic” screenplay with Max Borenstein), “Hypnotic” was filmed on location in Austin, Texas. The movie begins with a scene of Austin police detective Danny Rourke (played by Affleck) in a psychological therapy session in his therapist’s office. Danny is remembering a very painful experience in his life: the day his daughter Minnie disappeared while he was with her in a park.
His unnamed therapist (played by Nikki Dixon) says to Danny: “Park? That’s what you drift to, isn’t it? That park. That day. Take me back there.” A flashback to three years earlier shows 7-year-old Minnie (played by Ionie Nieves) and Danny in the park. Minnie asks Donnie to re-braid her pigtails, which have become slightly loosened. Danny tells Minnie as he touches her hair: “This is not a braid. This is a maze only your mother can solve.” Get used to this cringeworthy dialogue, because “Hypnotic” is full of it.
The flashback shows that Danny was watching Minnie play in the park when he took his eyes off of her for only a few seconds. And then she was gone. Before she disappeared, Danny remembered seeing a suspicious-looking young man lurking nearby. This suspect is 18-year-old Lyle Terry (played by Evan Vines), who was arrested on suspicion of abduction, even though there’s no evidence to tie him to the crime. Lyle has proclaimed his innocence.
Back in the therapist’s office in the present day, the therapist asks Danny if Danny thinks he needs to take a leave of absence from his job. Danny replies that work is “the only thing keeping me sane.” And where is Minnie’s mother? That information is revealed later in the movie. Minnie is now 10 years old (played by Hala Finley) and remains missing.
After leaving the therapist’s office, Danny is given a car ride by his cop partner Randy Nicks (payed by JD Pardo), who prefers to be called Nicks. Danny finds out from Nicks that two Bank of Boston branches in Texas (one bank in the city of Houston, and the other bank in Amarillo) experienced “inside job” armed robberies. The thieves didn’t steal any cash but took just one safe deposit box from each bank. As Danny and Nicks drive in their patrol car, Nicks plays a voice mail recording of a woman calling in an anonymous tip that a bank robbery is in progress at a bank in Austin. The tipster says that robbers plan to take the bank’s safe deposit box number 23.
Danny and Nicks are next seen with some colleagues outside the bank and doing a stakeout from a surveillance van. This van apparently has the surrounding area “bugged” with recording devices, because everyone in the van can hear many people’s conversations outside. On a bench outside, a man wearing a business suit sits down next to an unnamed woman (played by Bonnie Discepolo, also known as Bonnie Kathleen Ryan), who is also in a business suit.
The man, whose name is later identified as Lev Dellrayne (played by William Fitchner), looks intensely at the woman and tells her that it’s a very hot day. The woman then gets up and walks around as if she’s in a trance. She repeats out loud that the weather is so hot. And then she takes off her jacket and blouse, all while looking dazed and wandering out in the street where there’s traffic. Her wandering causes multiple car accidents.
Meanwhile, Dellrayne has gone into the bank, because this mystery man is up to no good and is about to be involved in robbing the bank. Danny leaps into action and goes into the bank too, even though his co-workers don’t want Danny to do that because they think it will disrupt their sting operation. Inside the bank, Dellryane has used hypnotic mind control of a bank teller (played by Natalie Garcia), by telling her that it’s the bank’s closing time in the late afternoon. It should come as no surprise that this bank teller is about to be an unwitting accomplice to this bank robbery.
Danny quickly convinces an unsuspecting bank manager (played by Lawrence Varnado) that Danny wants to open a safe deposit box at this branch. While in the safe deposit room, Danny manages to pickpocket the safe deposit keys from the manager without the manager knowing. The manager leaves the room to look for the keys, giving Danny enough time to open safe deposit box number 23. Inside the box, he finds a photo of Minnie, with these words written on the front of the photo: “Find Lev Dellrayne.”
The rest of “Hypnotic” shows action scenes and plot pivots that get more ridiculous as the story drones on in a stiff and awkward manner. The movie’s visual effects are nothing special. During his investigation, Danny encounters a psychic named Diana Cruz (played by Alice Braga); a technology expert/conspiracy theorist named River (played by Dayo Okeniyi); and an acquaintance of Diana’s named Jeremiah (played by Jackie Earle Haley), whose performance in the movie is a quick cameo that gets less than five minutes of screen time. And there are two people from Danny’s past named Carl (played by Jeff Fahey) and Thelma (played by Sandy Avila), who suddenly show up in one of the movie’s poorly conceived plot twists.
Affleck’s subpar acting looks like he’s bored and disinterested for most of the movie. If the lead actor looks like he doesn’t really care about giving a good performance, why should viewers care about the movie? Braga is the only principal cast member who makes a consistent effort to show some emotional range for her “Hypnotic” character. Finley is adequate but is not in the movie long enough for viewers to get to know her Minnie character. Everyone else in the cast has a role as a hollow character with no personal backstory.
“Hypnotic” could have been a mind-blowing sci-fi thriller, but instead it looks like an inferior ripoff of filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s 2010 classic “Inception.” One of the few highlights of “Hypnotic” is the gripping musical score by Rebel Rodriguez, who is one of the sons of “Hypnotic” filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. The movie is just too enamored with its bad ideas, including a mid-credits scene that’s another contradictory plot hole. This mid-credits scene hints that the “Hypnotic” filmmakers want to make a sequel, which is unlikely to happen for this muddled and misguided flop.
Ketchup Entertainment released “Hypnotic” in U.S. cinemas on May 12, 2023.