‘Hypnotic’ review: Twisted thriller sends Ben Affleck on the run

Veteran moviegoers complain these days that blockbuster franchises and streaming fare have all but squeezed out mid-budget character-driven drama. But it’s worse than that. The state of the industry also doesn’t do wonders for tight, low-budget, mid-length action thrillers with sci-fi or supernatural plots. So upon learning that after nearly a decade of working mostly in television or movies with a heavy YA slant, dynamic director Robert Rodriguez has a Ben Affleck-directed thriller thriller called “Hypnotic” in theaters, even a casual gender dog might cock an intrigued eyebrow.

Affleck plays Donald Rourke, a detective in Austin, Texas who is traumatized by the kidnapping of his infant daughter several years ago. One day, while on a lookout, he and his crew watch a cold-spoken old man (William Fichtner) whose cryptic words hypnotize several unhappy passers-by and force them to do bloody bank work. Beating Fichtner’s character into the safe he’s looking for, Rourke finds a Polaroid of his own daughter, with a cryptic message scrawled underneath.

A phone message leads him to clairvoyant Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), who explains the existence of “hypnotics”, powerful beings capable of controlling others with their words and thoughts. Conveniently, Affleck has a psychic block that prevents him from being affected. His partner doesn’t, however. After a macabre scene in which Rourke’s partner, now hypnotized, tries to cut his wrist in a handcuff in order to kill them, Rourke and Diana must flee to Mexico.

If the movie was just these two going from action set to action set with Braga’s character doing Jedi mind tricks along the way, it would have been satisfying. Rodriguez, after all, has always been a far above average cameraman and action choreographer. But he’s going for something more ambitious here. When Rourke starts to see a Mexican street reaching into the air and curving, you’d think the director — who has his own studio in Austin, where it was shot — is opting for a Christopher Nolan home twist.

It’s, arguably, biting off more than “Hypnotic” can comfortably chew, both conceptually and production-wise. When Affleck is confronted by a group of psychics wearing crimson sports jackets, for example, you wonder if he might have wandered into a Red Lobster executive convention. As the storyline veers into family sentimentality territory with gunfights, the awkwardness quotient rises. But the film is, if nothing else, ruthlessly efficient enough to deliver its crowd-pleasing bits that the truly hungry suspense genre hounds, at least, won’t necessarily care.

Rated R for violence and language. Duration: 1h32. In theaters.

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