WORDS: Dave Bradley, Arts Reviewer
Co-writer/co-producer/director/co-cinematographer/editor Robert Rodriguez’s labour-of-love latest (apparently first penned back in 2002!) suffered from a sorely dragged-out production due to COVID lockdowns, studio shutdowns and more, so it’s a shame that the lame final result is so drastically un-hypnotic.
Rodriguez is best-known for funnier, freakier films (El Mariachi, Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty, Sin City, Grindhouse/Planet Terror, the Spy Kids and Machete pics), so it’s disappointing that here he’s, for some reason, trying to pull off Christopher Nolan-wannabe touches: the unreliable narrator of Memento; the reality-distorting FX of Inception; the wacky chronological carry-on of Tenet.
Ben Affleck is in dull mode as Danny Roark, an Austin detective who’s haunted by the abduction of his seven-year-old daughter and regularly sees a therapist to discuss (or not discuss) his supposed pain. He and his chummy partner Nicks (J.D. Pardo) are called to a downtown bank after a tip-off, and Roark is distracted by the appearance of a mysterious guy revealed as Lev Dellrayne (William Fichtner), who has the power to psychically manipulate people with his words, thus making them do all the expected dangerous and goofy things.
This character (who now unfortunately seems like a rip-off of David Tennant’s Kilgrave from Marvel’s Jessica Jones TV series) is immediately the most interesting in the whole tale, and it’s obviously a serious issue with any narrative if the villain is so cool that you long for him to keep on popping up, and perhaps even hope that he’ll bump off the glum old hero and take over. And Fichtner (most visible right now in those endless repeats of TV’s Mom) is in amusingly fine form, even though he reportedly found director Rodriguez’s onset style a little off-putting.
Roark winds up somehow seeking out a fortune teller named Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), and they’re soon on the run with Dellrayne and other powerful ‘Hypnotics’ on their trail, as the plot grows more and more tediously deceptive and you just know that some really, really big twists are on the way. And that they’re going to be really, really annoying.
With too much Ben and not enough William, this is rather sad to watch in its final stages as it lays the potential groundwork for a sequel – a sequel that won’t happen now that it’s proven a real gobbler at the box-office.
And, come on, how could it not be a financial disappointment? After all, it’s full to the brim with plot tricks and turnarounds that should only be surprising if you’ve never seen a damn movie before.