Hypnotic, review: imagine Memento rewritten by an escaped lunatic (and starring Ben Affleck)

Ben Affleck in Hypnotic
Ben Affleck in Hypnotic

Robert Rodriguez is one of those directors it can be hard to mentally detach from their creative heyday, so it’s fitting that his latest opus feels like the most ludicrous film of 2003. Imagine Christopher Nolan’s Memento if it had been rewritten by an escaped lunatic: voila, that’s Hypnotic, an entirely uproarious 90 minutes at the cinema which asks nothing more of its audience than that they keep their incredulity suspended for just a few seconds longer and keep enjoying the ride.

Ben Affleck stars as a brooding and gravelly police detective who discovers that world events are being manipulated by a secret cabal of evil hypnotists – and really, in the great wide world of plot summaries, we are already in the realm of the all-timers here. At least one of said hypnotists may have had something to do with the abduction of his daughter Minnie three years earlier. (A supposed kidnapper was caught, but the girl herself never found.) And they’re certainly connected to a recent spate of bank robberies: all inside jobs in which specific safety deposit boxes are sprung from the vault by groups of employees and bystanders all unknown to one another, but who seem to be working in a synchronised trance.

Loitering among them is William Fichtner’s supremely shifty Dellrayne, who in a snappily structured early sequence makes off with one of these boxes right from under Affleck’s nose. After convincing two security guards to shoot each other dead, he plops off the rooftop, creepily vanishing from sight.

With the help of a local psychic called Diana (Alice Braga), Affleck discovers that Dellrayne is one of an elite subset of humans known as “hypnotics” who can infiltrate and manipulate the thought processes of their fellow citizens with Jedi-like ease. And these powers are used to steer the course of humanity in nefarious directions: on the wall of an underground bunker we see headlines detailing some of their recent accomplishments, including – superbly – Brexit.

The fun really begins when it becomes clear that Affleck’s investigations into the bank heists and his daughter’s whereabouts are themselves being externally manipulated – Nolan’s influence on Rodriguez and Max Borenstein’s screenplay is obvious even before the scenery starts folding in on itself. (And fold in on itself the scenery does.)

William Fichtner in Hypnotic
William Fichtner in Hypnotic

Unlike Nolan, the ensuing twists and counter-twists are deeply, deeply silly, though I mean that as a compliment: when was the last time you saw a film that was happily far-fetched without shame, neither larding itself in irony nor tripping over its own feet in the scramble to legitimise its loopy manoeuvres?

No, everyone on Hypnotic knows exactly what sort of picture they’re making: a self-contained, short, sharp smack of entertainment, with crisp action, regular jolts of surprise, and a plot that seems specifically designed to be riffed on all night in the pub. It’s a film which has musclebound henchmen called Tiny, and trusty partners (in this case, JD Pardo’s Nicks) who fire off wisecracks such as, “Mind control? Drained bank accounts? Sounds like my ex-wife.”

Once upon a time, films like Hypnotic seemed to open in cinemas every other week. Truly, we didn’t know how lucky we were.

15 cert, 94 min. In cinemas from May 26