Movie Review: Affleck Teams Up with Robert Rodriguez for a Nolan/DePalma homage — “Hypnotic”

Texas filmmaker Robert Rodriguez never became a “brand,” which seems kind of a shame when you’re wondering how to sell his latest, a thriller titled “Hypnotic.”

“From the fevered mind of Robert Rodriguez” seems to sum it up, and would fit on a movie poster, too.

But what’s been on the “El Mariachi,””Spy Kids” and “From Dusk Till Dawn” filmmaker’s mind? Judging from the short but not snappy picture he’s put on the screen, I’d say Brian DePalma’s “The Fury,” Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” and “Memento,” filmmakers who give him an “out” for this problem the picture presents.

How do you make a zombie movie without zombies? You make those coming for you slowly and deliberately psychically hypnotized, not the walking dead.

Ben Affleck stars as Danny Rourke, an Austin, Texas police detective in therapy since he saw his daughter snatched from him at a local park. Cleared to return to work, he joins his partner, Nicks (JD Pardo) on a call. Could this anonymous tip be leading them to the next in a series of bank robberies?

But this guy they eyeball as he speaks to a couple of folks before strolling into the Bank of Austin sets off Rourke’s spidey sense. He’s played by the oft-sketchy William Fichtner, so those suspicions are warranted.

Our stranger talks to a lady on a park bench, mentioning how “hot” it is. He walks away, and she strips and strolls into traffic. Quite the…distraction.

A word of two in passing the armored car guards, and next thing Rourke knows, they’ve stormed into the bank and assisted in the robbery.

And that safe deposit box that apparently was our villain’s target? It has a Polaroid shot of Rourke’s daughter Minnie and a name that offers a clue.

That sends our confused, scrambling cop on a surreal odyssey into “hypnotic constructs” and those who construct them. Apparently, this supernatural villain is able to implant thoughts in his prey’s mind to get them to do his bidding — rob a bank, chase and attack Det. Rourke and the “dime store psychic” (Alice Braga) he interviews for making that “anonymous tip,” someone who knows all about “hypnotics” and a secret program to make them into weapons for Uncle Sam.

All Fichtner’s character needs to do is give somebody or a bunch of somebodies a word or a look, and they turn into a zombie army coming for Rourke and now palm-reader Diana.

A “hack into their main frame” paranoid (Dayo Okeniyi) must be enlisted, and a former insider in that hypno-influencers unit (Jackie Earle Haley) must be consulted.

No one is who they seem, only in a movie this derivative, this reliant on formula, they are.

Affleck seems unengaged here, which was an acting choice, given that he’s the one fellow immune to the psychic assaults. He should be dazed. It might be “true” to the character, but it’s our best excuse to check out of the movie.

As a longtime fan of Rodriguez, Affleck, Fichtner and Braga (“City of God”), I kept waiting for some combination of them to rescue this three-wheeled shopping cart of a thriller.

The plot is “Memento” here, “Inception” (complete with street-and-architecture-bending hallucinations) there, with a healthy dose of DePalma’s “The Fury” driving the narrative.

It’s easy enough to follow, but annoying in that we know we’re wasting brainpower piecing this pointless jumble together.

The script is littered with nonsensical exposition that lays out the parameters and particulars of this new “universe” of psychic warfare. It never quite transcends “hackneyed,” as in borrowing most everything from other movies and even recycling expressions that have no meaning — “Dime store psychic?” — even if a lot of lazy screenwriters have used and re-used them over the decades.

“It just makes no sense,” Affleck is forced to mutter at one point, perhaps the most hackneyed line of all, and yet somehow, the truest.

Rating: R for violence

Cast: Ben Affleck, Alice Braga, William Fichtner, JD Pardo, Jackie Earle Haley, Sandy Avila and Jeff Fahey

Credits: Directed by Robert Rodriguez, scripted by Robert Rodriguez and Max Borenstein.. A Kethup Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:33


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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