This is probably an odd thing to say, but whenever watching a modern potboiler I find myself asking, “What would Bertrand Tavernier think?” The kind of French cineaste that found themselves most at home in the company of the disposable American crime film, the esteemed director could wax poetic on the most disreputable of pictures. If you squint during Hypnotic––a collaboration between Robert Rodriguez and Ben Affleck that’s likely been cooking since they first met at a 1997 Miramax holiday party––you can see faint traces of a classic noir like Otto Preminger’s Whirlpool, or something of such ilk.

Though pitched as somewhat of a Christopher Nolan-like mind-bender, this is a throwback of another stripe: to 2010, not 1948. Stripped of the comfortable Hollywood budget that would’ve greeted that pairing during their respective heydays, this initially seems like the pilot for a slightly more high-concept detective show (or, more charitably, a cozy paperback you find at a used bookstore) before accounting for its lack of resources with a certain amount of spirit. 

Affleck plays Rourke, an Austin cop still reeling from his daughter having gone missing (one will recall traces of the sad Ben captured in paparazzi photos). Things become strange when a photo of her turns up at the scene of a bank robbery led by the shadowy, strangely named Dellrayne (the dependable William Fichtner). Rourke’s further investigation of this crime leads him to Diana (Alice Braga), an old-school psychic still operating her business out of a storefront with a neon crystal ball adorning it. She soon alerts him to the existence of hypnotics (super-powered individuals who can penetrate the mind of others) and the two realize that finding Rourke’s daughter may be key to a grander conspiracy.

By the time the duo find themselves in the company of a hacker who brags about brewing his own homemade Mountain Dew, Hypnotic‘s tone has become irrevocably wacky––not the worst thing. Placing an emphasis on science-fiction over psychoanalysis, the memories of one Mr. Nolan’s favoring of mazes over morasses come to mind; Rourke’s journey back to his daughter is ridiculous, yet based in pretty recognizable screenwriting-class stakes. 

The Nolan comparisons go further as it deliberately takes the folding city image from Inception and presents the, ahem, low-res version (though honestly, one wants to see it play with emaciated computer-generated imagery even more). But even if the form could be a little more wild, Rodriguez keeps his film moving at a reasonable clip so you don’t spend too much time thinking about the various ridiculous plot twists. It’s initially odd seeing Affleck––seemingly more square-jawed than ever, providing one terse line delivery after another that seems cut from the same cloth as his Batman performance––in as low-rent a project as this. Yet a likable, overqualified B-movie lead in the Dana Andrews mold (yes, Tavernier would be smiling), his company is the kind of thing that tips Hypnotic over into comfort viewing.

Maybe I feel the need to go easy on this film (see my Marlowe review from a couple months back for similar thoughts) because it suggests something nobody was asking for but delivered with both total commitment and sincerity. After all, Hypnotic’s ending is oddly sentimental: the family unit restored, albeit in a strangely complicated fashion. You can even imagine Rodriguez and Affleck justifying their reasons for doing it as “what it meant to them as fathers,” and at this point it’s frankly more fun to grant them the faint praise of “I’ll allow it.”

Hypnotic is now wide release.

Grade: B-

No more articles