Seasoned moviegoers these days complain that blockbuster franchises and formulaic streaming fares have all but squeezed out mid-budget character-driven drama. But it’s worse than that. The state of the biz doesn’t do wonders for tight, low-budget, mid-length action thrillers with sci-fi or supernatural plot hooks either. So when he learns that dynamic director Robert Rodriguez, after nearly a decade working mostly in television or movies with a strong YA slant, has a Ben Affleck-led suspense thriller called “Hypnotic” in theaters, even a casual genre hound can an intrigued eyebrow.
Affleck plays Donald Rourke, a detective in Austin, Texas, traumatized by the kidnapping of his infant daughter several years ago. One day, he and his crew observe a cold elderly man (William Fichtner) whose cryptic words cast a spell on several hapless bystanders, forcing them to do a gory bank job. Rourke beats Fichtner’s character to the safe he’s looking for and finds a Polaroid of his own daughter, with a puzzling message scrawled underneath.
A phone message leads him to psychic Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), who explains the existence of “hypnotics,” powerful beings that can control others with their words and thoughts. Conveniently, Affleck has a psychic block that prevents him from being affected. His partner, however, is not. After a gruesome scene in which Rourke’s now-hypnotized partner tries to free his own wrist from a handcuff to kill them, Rourke and Diana must flee to Mexico.
If the movie was just these two going from action-set-piece to action-set-piece, with Braga’s character pulling Jedi mind tricks along the way, it would have been satisfying. After all, Rodriguez has always been an above average camera director and action choreographer. But he’s going for something more ambitious here. When Rourke starts to see a Mexican street stretching and curving in the sky, you think the director – who has his own studio in Austin where this was shot – is going for a homegrown Christopher Nolan take.
This is arguably more biting off than “Hypnotic” can comfortably chew, both conceptually and for production. For example, when Affleck is confronted by a pack of psychics wearing crimson sports jackets, you wonder if he might have walked into a convention of Red Lobster senior executives. As the screenplay moves into the realm of family shooting sentimentality, the crazy quotient increases. But the movie, if nothing else, is relentlessly efficient enough at delivering its crowd-pleasing bits that at least really starving suspense genre hounds won’t necessarily mind.
Rated R for violence and language. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theatres.