It’s certainly been a while since director Robert Rodriguez has been on the Hollywood scene so, as with many others, there was an air of anticipation that the filmmaker was returning with a new film, one that would be much different to those that made his name. Most recently, he has directed episodes of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, as well as making his Netflix debut with We Can Be Heroes, a child-friendly riff on The Avengers that became the streamer’s most watched film of 2021. But it has been some time since he has had a film in the cinema so there was cause for excitement. This time, in a break from his usual repertoire of films, Rodriguez has concocted something altogether different: a sci-fi thriller with big ideas and lofty themes but one that, once you’ve seen it, you’ll be thinking you’ve seen it somewhere before and, sadly, much better executed.
We meet weary Austin Police Department detective Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) in his therapist’s office talking about his guilt over the disappearance of his young daughter years earlier, something that he still believes he is in some way responsible for. With his marriage dissolved and struggling to find any real solace, Rourke is deemed fit to return to duty and his first assignment is to follow a mysterious tip-off that a local bank will see one of its safety deposit boxes robbed: only not everything is as it seems, for in the box is a photo of his daughter with the message “Find Lev Dellrayne” below it. Stunned, he begins to investigate its truthfulness and is led to fortuneteller Diana Cruz (Alice Braga) who divulges that Dellrayne (William Fichtner), who was at the bank robbery, is to blame and that he and she are “Hypnotics”, powerful mind readers and hypnotists part of the secretive The Division and who may hold the key to finding his daughter.
So far, you might be thinking that Hypnotic will follow the kinetic, high-octane energy of Rodriguez’s previous films – notably Desperado and El Mariachi – and see him get back to his roots so to speak, but this effort, sadly, doesn’t ever come close and, with none of the uniqueness and sharp vision of his previous works, instead fees dull, laboured and supremely convoluted. Once the wheels start turning on this one and the real consequences and stakes come into view, it becomes even clearer that other such efforts to create something like this, a topsy-turvy, otherworldly narrative where the world can be manipulated and altered, have been done much better in other places. Almost immediately, your mind will be turned to many of Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending films as well as countless others (Blade Runner, Brazil, and Shutter Island to name just a few) and you’ll feel exasperated that you’re revisiting old places that have much clearer ambitions than this.
Indeed, it’s Inception fans who will perhaps have the most to say about this one as, for the most part, it feels like a total rip-off of Nolan’s 2010 epic with some scenes almost literally torn from the pages of that film, given little alteration and then shamelessly revamped to fit a “new” narrative that pales in comparison at almost every turn. It almost feels like it forces Rodriguez (and, indeed, Affleck) to be working with one arm tied behind his back, struggling to break free and, in turn, squashes any real hope that the film may have just about gotten away with its lazy scripting and recycling of ideas to create at least something mildly entertaining, but instead with get this half-arsed, boring, lifeless, insipid conglomeration that fails almost immediately after the opening credits roll.
Action, Thriller, Sci-Fi | 2023 | Warner Bros Pictures | 15 | In cinemas May 26th | Dir: Robert Rodriguez | Ben Affleck, Alice Braga, William Fichtner, Jackie Earle Haley, J.D. Pardo, Jeff Fahey