Wide-angle photography also helps viewers to distinguish between “reality” as Rourke knows it and the “Inception”-style delirium that warps his (and our) perspective, often shot with spherical camera lenses. If you squint hard enough at “Hypnotic,” past the obvious twists and embarrassing dialogue, you might see flashes of a deeper story, though only if you’re a fan of multihyphenate filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.
Rodriguez (“Alita: Battle Angel,” “Four Rooms”) directed, scripted, and edited “Hypnotic” in Austin, Texas, after three production breaks and an insurance lawsuit. Austin was not Rodriguez or his production’s first choice of location (Los Angeles), nor was it their second (Toronto). Still, it’s hard to imagine how Rodriguez could have shot “Hypnotic” anywhere but Austin, especially because he’s filmed most of his projects in Austin during his 30 years as a filmmaker. Moreover, when “Hypnotic” is more about ambiance than story, it seems to reflect a crisis of imagination: what happened to the weird and vibrant Austin of Rodriguez’s memory? Did it ever really exist?
I don’t mean to over-sell the personal qualities that often skirt the periphery of Rourke’s quest for answers, but “Hypnotic” does try to lull viewers into a suggestive frame of mind, primarily by over-stating the facts of Rourke’s investigation. He teams up with Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), a “dime store psychic” (his words) who ferries Rourke around Austin’s shadier corners. Rodriguez’s fans might recognize a few key locations, like the Bone Shack barbecue spot from “Planet Terror,” where truckers and Texas Rangers refuel with breakfast tacos. Other Austin locations are only familiar because of the character actors lurking inside, like Jeff Fahey and Jackie Earle Haley. There’s also an Alex Jones-type paranoiac (Dayo Okeniyi) hiding in a lavishly decorated bunker. He can see fine, but still wears an eyepatch that he shifts from eye to eye to avoid detection by security cameras, because of their facial recognition technology, right?
The prefab weird-ness of this secret Austin, the city that Rourke never thought to investigate, inevitably proves to be as substantial as the movie’s canned and by-now-stale remixing of the genre tics and tropes that Christopher Nolan previously claimed in signature movies like “Memento,” “Inception,” and “Tenet.” “Hypnotic” isn’t as polished nor as thoughtful as Nolan’s trendsetters. It’s also often distractingly stiff in its over-inflated visual compositions and robotic dialogue. A game cast, led by the thankfully charming Affleck, does not add much value to this bald caper.