A question that often occupies my mind when thinking about cinema is: Is it harder to review a film that you love or hate? Is singing a movie’s praises easier than laying out exactly why you think it failed? Or is it the third way that’s the most difficult: explaining why a film is neither bad nor good, but simply middle-of-the-road fine? Talking about and describing art is an art form in and of itself, and it’s not easy.
Except when it is.
So thank you, Robert Rodriguez, for maybe finally answering this question for me.
Hypnotic, Rodriguez’s (El Mariachi) new film, starring Ben Affleck, William Fichtner (Heat), and Alice Braga (City Of God), among others, is bad. Very bad. Terrible, as a matter of fact. As I watched it, my brain grew restless from wanting to tell people how bad it was, and why. Part of the difficulty with writing about film is teasing out the good from the bad, and providing a balanced picture. There’s no balance in Hypnotic. It’s all bad. The only saving grace is that the movie bucks the modern trend of overlong run times and winds up after a blessed ninety-three minutes.
And thank god it does, because even those ninety-three minutes feel like they go on forever. Hypnotic opens with Affleck’s detective, Rourke, reliving a traumatic memory in a therapist’s office. We soon learn that an indeterminate time ago, his daughter was kidnapped. That explains the look on his face, which for ninety-nine percent of the film is that exact same expression as the one seen in the header image of this review. I like Ben Affleck. As far as the almost-separate species of human that is The Celebrity goes, he seems to me like one of the more sympathetic examples, and he’s proven himself a capable director (Gone Baby Gone remaining his best) and actor, but in Hypnotic he’s reduced to an emotionless meat puppet voiced by someone doing a bad impression doing of Ben Affleck doing a bad impression of a generic film noir protagonist.
I suppose he has reason to be miserable—quite apart from his in-story motives, which manage to be broad and unconvincing at the same time—as he has to spend ninety-plus minutes hanging around characters who say things like: ‘People with the ability to actually influence the brain on a psychic bandwidth!’, and, ‘He erased his own mind?!’ Sometimes there’s nothing more enjoyable than a ‘bad’ movie that’s secretly good. Enjoyable trash, made with a sense of fun and some cinematic craft, and filled with intentionally goofy dialogue, can be wonderful. Hypnotic ain’t that. Robert Rodriguez’s track record is a mixed bag, but his films usually have that element of bouncy effervescence to them at the very least.
Po-faced, boring, filled with unimaginative camera work and dull action sequences, Hypnotic does not. It’s no fun at all. It’s the cinematic equivalent of wading through a muddy bog. A bog home to a plant species that continuously emits carbon monoxide. The plot—escalating in an ever-more ludicrous (and, again, not in a fun way) series of reveals and counter-reveals—follows Affleck’s Rourke as he transitions from one bad video game cutscene to another, pointing his scowl at whoever dumps the next lot of gobbledygook exposition at him. Will he find his daughter? Who took her and why? What is the deeper conspiracy underneath it all? Who cares. It certainly doesn’t look like Rourke does. Disconnected and jarring, nothing makes sense in this film. I had a thought that if you replaced Rourke with Channing Tatum’s 21 Jump Street character, you might have a comedic masterpiece on your hands, his virtuoso deadpan dimwit reactions likely transforming the stupidity here into hilarity.
But we don’t have Tatum. We have a sleepwalking Affleck who looks like he’d rather be anywhere else, in a film that feels like it was written by Mac and Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which has the temerity—the unmitigated audacity—to cast William Fichtner and make him boring. There’s a special level in hell for that.