HYPNOTIC (2023) is a new thriller starring Ben Affleck that tries to tell a clever story but instead ends up being superficial and shallow.
It’s also one of those movies where characters speak in terms of exposition. “We had to do this because….” “We had to do that because…” Lots of telling. Not much showing.
HYPNOTIC opens with detective Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) in a therapy session talking about the horrific day his young daughter was abducted from a park playground when he had looked away for only one second. Danny is clearly still a mess, yet at the end of the session, the therapist gives him the green light to return to active duty, which is the first of many instances in this movie where the plot just moves along because it is supposed to, rather than for any believable reasons.
We next find Danny staking out a bank with his fellow detectives because they received a tip the bank would be robbed, and there have been a string of robberies where the only thing stolen has been safe deposit boxes. When Danny observes a strange man (William Fichtner) speaking in code to a woman and then to a couple of guards, Danny wrongly believes they are all working together, and he rushes into the scene. He’s wrong, because the strange man, whose name is Dellrayne, is really hypnotizing these people to do whatever he wants.
When Danny thwarts the person who Dellrayne hypnotized to steal the safe deposit box, he opens it to see a photo of his missing daughter. Perplexed, he confronts Dellrayne, but the mysterious hypnotist escapes. Looking for answers, Danny and his partner Nicks (JD Pardo) track down the person who left the anonymous tip about the bank robbery, a woman named Diana (Alice Braga) who also happens to possess hypnotic abilities.
And it’s here where the dialogue in HYPNOTIC becomes bogged down in exposition. Diana explains who Dellrayne is and what he is up to, and since he wants the safety deposit box which Danny prevented him from stealing, he will be coming for it, which suits Danny just fine, since he wants to find his missing daughter. So many questions, so few answers. Honestly, at this point in the movie, the story is somewhat intriguing, as the mystery of why a picture of Danny’s daughter was inside a safety deposit box, and why Dellrayne wants that picture is a mildly interesting one.
HYPNOTIC then tries to go full blown “out there” and become a sort of poor man’s INCEPTION (2010), with equal parts TOTAL RECALL (1990) but it’s just not ambitious enough to pull this off successfully. There are lots of twists and turns and false memories and the like, but everything that happens in this movie is quick and superficial. It all fits neatly into its brief 90-minute running time, which sadly, might be the best part of this movie, that it doesn’t go on for too long! While I appreciated its briskness, it doesn’t take full advantage of this brevity by providing a lean mean story; instead, its plot is threadbare and summarized.
HYPNOTIC was written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, whose work I usually enjoy. Not so much this time around. My favorite Robert Rodriguez film is one of his earliest, the now classic vampire flick FROM DUSK TO DAWN (1996) which starred George Clooney, and he also helmed both the SIN CITY and MACHETE movies. Most recently he’s been directing episodes of THE MANDALORIAN (2020) and THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT (2021) TV series.
His work is usually slick, polished, and energetic, which is the case here with HYPNOTIC, but the problem is the story doesn’t hold up. Rodriguez’s screenplay rushes through nearly every story element here, and none of the characters are all that interesting. For a movie with a somewhat intriguing premise, I found this one all rather dull.
Likewise, I usually enjoy Ben Affleck. He just turned in a solid performance in a supporting role in the recent movie AIR (2023), which he directed, and which also just premiered for free on Prime Video this weekend. About the only time I haven’t really enjoyed Affleck was when he played Batman, and unfortunately, he kinda seems like Batman here only without the costume. He’s dark and grumpy, as he plays detective Danny Rourke as one dreadfully gloomy character, but without any real angst. He just looks serious and delivers somber lines, acting tough as if he were an indestructible superhero, a la Batman. Which is another knock on the screenplay. The dialogue is awful.
I also usually like William Fichtner, as he has stood out in movies like DRIVE ANGRY (2011) and THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), but he’s dull here as well as hypnotic villain Dellrayne. Like the other characters in the movie, he talks about what he just did, and what he is going to do, rather than actually doing anything. Ditto for Alice Braga as Diana.
Jackie Earle Haley shows up for one brief scene, basically a cameo, and it’s too bad he’s not in this one more, because in his few minutes of screen time, he delivers the best performance in the movie.
HYPNOTIC offers an intriguing mystery but drops the ball when telling a story about it. The characters are flat, the dialogue superficial, and the story, while it tries to go the route of a mind-boggling science fiction thriller, instead plods along a pedestrian path of unremarkable exposition.
I give it one and a half stars.
Four stars – Perfect, Top of the line
Three and a half stars- Excellent
Three stars – Very Good
Two and a half stars – Good
Two Stars – Fair
One and a half stars – Pretty Weak
One star- Poor
Zero stars – Awful