Ever wondered what would happen if someone stole a bunch of head-scratching mystery riffs from Now You See Me, The Adjustment Bureau, Memento and The Matrix, stuck them in a blender with an assortment of late-80s straight-to-video neo-noirs, and then pressed go without closing the lid, thereby causing the resultant volcanic eruption to merrily redecorate the world? Well, wonder no more, because here’s co-writer/director Robert Rodriguez with one he prepared earlier – splattering the cinema screen with all the colours of the daft, courtesy of an A-list star, a B-movie aesthetic, a C-minus musical score, and a D/E audience rating (Hypnotic has already failed to mesmerise in the US). Rejoice, fans of big-screen trash, as Oscar-winner Ben Affleck invites you to join him on a journey that will test your head, and your mind, and your brain…
Affleck is in maximum frowny mode as Daniel Rourke, a detective haunted by memories of his young daughter’s abduction. The culprit pleaded “not guilty due to mental incapacity” after claiming to have no memory of the kidnapping, or of the child’s whereabouts. It sounds like a ruse, until Rourke finds himself playing cat-and-mouse with a criminal mastermind (William Fichtner) blessed with unholy powers of persuasion. “Are you familiar with the concept of hypnotic constructs?” asks Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), a “dime-store psychic” who delivers Basil Exposition-style speeches about “hypnotics” – people with “the ability to actually influence the brain over a psychic bandwidth. Telepaths just read the mind; hypnotics reshape its reality.”
Much of this dialogue, including the immortal line “He erased his own mind?!”, is at once overripe yet still oddly soft-boiled. As for the mise-en-scène, the early movements are all baked exteriors and strip-club-lighting interiors, with heavily coded reds, blues and greens. Later, when the big reveal happens, everything goes white, signalling that a light has been shone on all these mysteries – although it all continues to make no sense.
There’s fun to be had in scenes of a man attempting to pull his own hand off while under the influence
Rodriguez and co-scripter Max Borenstein, who wrote the 2014 Godzilla reboot and created the Minority Report TV series, go on a thematic shoplifting spree, snatching psychic pushes from Stephen King’s Firestarter, dozy psycho-crime plot twists from Primal Fear, and Philip K Dick false memories from Blade Runner, Total Recall et al. At times I was reminded of the 2015 thriller Solace, in which Anthony Hopkins helped the FBI by functioning as a sort of psychic satnav. Somehow, this is even sillier.
One minute Rodriguez is churning out sub-Inception world-bending hallucination scenes, the next he’s nodding his head toward Hitchcock as someone creeps towards a shower room brandishing a large pair of scissors (Herrmannesque strings ahoy!). Affleck does a lot of eyes-closed, big-face acting to indicate just how conflicted his character feels, while Braga does an impressive job of not laughing while delivering lines such as “Pain can keep the mind awake”, or “He was already dead; I set him free”.
Sunglasses are worn indoors, scenery is chewed through sucked teeth (hats off to a scene-stealing Jackie Earle Haley for adding a fleeting note of uncharacteristic understatement) and a chase scene climaxes with a white van banging into a golf cart as everything implodes in a sub-Truman Show mess. Meanwhile composer Rebel Rodriguez leads the audience by the hand, with tinkly keyboard cues telling us when things are supposed to be sad, thumpy bash-bash noises pumping up the action scenes, and big quasi-Zimmer honks reminding us that his dad is essentially doing Christopher Nolan on the cheap.
While the result may be preposterous tosh from start to finish (a nippy 94 minutes – hooray!), there’s fun to be had in scenes of a man attempting to pull his own hand off while under the influence, and in gunfights that turn into staring competitions and then end with everyone simply shooting themselves in the foot. Since Rodriguez’s back catalogue contains such knowing pulp as the vampire actioner From Dusk Till Dawn and the grindhouse pastiche Planet Terror, one presumes that he knows exactly how ridiculous this all is, and has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek throughout. Or maybe not. The fact that I’m not entirely sure simply adds to the guilty pleasure.