The Pitch: Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) is your run-of-the-mill city cop. He’s fit, grumbles his way through just about every sentence, and makes decisions based on his always-correct intuition (who needs standard procedure anyways?!). Of course, he’s also troubled by a tragic backstory: the kidnapping of his daughter. Ten minutes in, and it’s set up to be a classic detective-driven action flick, except for one small catch – hypnotics.
You see, in this world, Jedi mind tricks are real. With little more than the right string of words and the wave of your hand, you can take control of another person… so long as you have enough of whatever Hypnotic’s analog to midichlorians are, that is. Like Christopher Nolan’s Inception (a film that no doubt influenced the script of Hypnotic), it’s a world that constantly casts doubt on its own established reality, and the rabbit hole goes surprisingly deep.
While attempting to prevent a bank robbery, Rourke stumbles across this world of hypnotics, leading him to unravel a deep-state conspiracy that seemingly leads back to his missing daughter. Que Inception foghorn.
Yesteryear’s High Concepts: On paper, the pitch makes Robert Rodriguez’s Hypnotic sound like the type of action movie that rarely gets made anymore; High-concept popcorn flicks that center around government conspiracies and general themes of family, free will, or basic morality. They’re movies that take a fairly archetypal story, add one or two vague sci-fi elements to it, and squeeze out 90 minutes of conflict. Think Minority Report or Eagle Eye, Next or Law Abiding Citizen. Hell, even Affleck himself is no stranger to the micro-genre, as anyone who remembers Paycheck can confirm.
Look closely, and you’ll find the common denominator that connects all of these examples: a 2000s release date. And despite being released 13 years after the end of that decade, Hypnotic feels no different. If the film was branded as a long-lost Ben Affleck vehicle from 2009, nobody would have thought twice. Everything from its concept to the exposition-heavy script to the yellowed color grading and action choreography just oozes a distinctly aughts tone. It comes as no surprise, then, that the origins of Hypnotic date back to 2002.
Whether it was a conscious artistic decision or not, the 2000s vibes translate to the performances as well. Affleck’s gruff, angry-but-morally-righteous character provides him little room to flex his on-screen chops. He’s charismatic and worth rooting for, but the complexities of Danny Rourke are eclipsed by even Affleck’s vengeance-obsessed portrayal of Batman. The rest of the cast fares similarly: William Fichtner is the uncompromising villain that’s always three steps ahead (until he’s not), and Alice Braga is the seasoned guide and inevitable love interest. Each plays their part well enough, but the script stunts them from achieving any true brilliance.