Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"Amounts to a criminal thriller with extra magic"

Hypnotic answers a question no-one had thought to ask: "What if John Woo directed a Christopher Nolan film?" Though film is often given to taking sets of production circumstances and calling them a genre, as with spaghetti westerns or grindhouse or B-movies, I'm not sure if there's an equivalent for mid-Eighties conspiracy that feels like it's based on a Philip K Dick short story.

It isn't. I've not got Total Recall of these things but I've got the five-volume complete short stories that includes We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Despite similarities to both Dick's ur-form and the vestigial traces in Verhoeven's film it's convergent evolution. There are traces of Cronenberg too, but as one scans for parallels there are enough that one's head might explode.

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Robert Rodriguez wears his usual array of hats and hyphens, including co-director of photography, a co-writing credit, and while it could be that someone who shares the same name was a re-recording mixer, probability suggests it was the real deal. Adding to the litany "father of producer" (Racer Max) and "dad to composer" (Rebel Rodriguez) though those are implied rather than end-titles. Rodriguez is from Texas so calling him a cowboy film-maker is variously unfair, but his run and gun style means that even with its looping structure Hypnotic compels through its hour and a half of action.

Max Borenstein is that co-writer. He developed the TV version of Minority Report which span a ten episode miniseries out of the 32 pages (at least in my Millennium edition of the eponymous fourth volume of the collected short stories {Gollancz, 2000}). He also penned the latter Godzillae, Kong: Skull Island and their title bout. He might, though, be best known for The Terror. With that work in TV there's a temptation to describe Hypnotic as episodic, but its repetitions and pauses aren't because its pace is unsustained but counter-point.

Earlier when I said "Nolan film" you might have wondered "which one?" and the answer is "yes." Other directors have used repeating patterns and industrial landscapes hiding secrets, but few other directors open their film with a daylight bank heist involving William Fichtner. It hasn't the same inevitability as Memento but it does borrow a few keepsakes. Tenet repeats similarly on rails and Inception has planted a few ideas here. I'd mentioned John Woo too. Beyond also starring Ben Affleck and actually being based on a Philip K Dick short story, Paycheck came to mind for more reasons than a motorcycle chase. The level of conspiracy and high concept owe a debt to Face/Off as well.

This isn't quite a watchmaker's film, if nothing else it hasn't the budget of works by Nolan or James Cameron or Stanley Kubrick. Other directors use negative space, dolly zooms, overhead shots through labyrinths, patterns within establishing shots, but I'm not sure many other than Rodriguez would put a scene a short distance into the credits that (lack of spoilers) recontextualises previous recontextualisations to make what was previously true lies. There are small details that justify later events without being remarked upon. I'm uncertain to what extent those are meant to be subconscious cues or Rodriguez trusting his audience to pay attention.

Affleck is gruff as Austin detective Rourke, investigating a mysterious crime instigated though not committed by Fichtner's Lev Dellrayne. Alice Braga plays a strip-mall psychic who becomes involved as Rourke's partner Nicks (JD Pardo) starts to be less useful. There's a host of familiar faces from other Rodriguez projects, including that guy Jeff Fahey and Zane Holtz. Equally familiar in a different way is some of the production design. These include what I'm halfway sure is a nod to the Northwest Airlines uniforms from the Nineties when the aircraft livery was nicknamed 'The Bowling Shoe'.

Borrowed, slightly suspect, and to be returned. Bowling shoes, and so too Hypnotic. Important for having at the time, hard-wearing, well-constructed, and part of the rules. Bowling shoes, and so too Hypnotic. There might be something about mismatches, or workmanlike attire, or leather soles given our protagonist is a flatfoot himself. At one point our weary detective explains he's not with the fraud unit, using the brilliant phrase "I'm not bunko." The extent to which that's true, with its shades of noir in what amounts to a criminal thriller with extra magic, is hypnotic.

The inciting incident is a robbery, or rather the suggestion of one. The quantity of borrowing here would be enough to get almost anyone into bother, but Rodriguez called his production house Troublemaker for a reason. The same sensibilities that informed love letters to genre like Sin City and Planet Terror and Machete are here, just arranged in a different order. Hypnotic will be, if you're susceptible, just the thing to catch you.

Reviewed on: 06 Jul 2023
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Hypnotic packshot
A detective investigates a mystery involving his missing daughter and a secret government programme.
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Director: Robert Rodriguez

Writer: Robert Rodriguez, Max Borenstein

Starring: Ben Affleck, Alice Braga, JD Pardo, Dayo Okeniyi, Jeff Fahey, Jackie Earle Haley, William Fichtner, Zane Holtz

Year: 2023

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US


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