NB: some spoilers.
Robert Rodriguez, whose career has been on and off the boil a lot (and lately mostly off), was one of the first to make much of the idea of an electronic studio – especially with the ultra-stylised Sin City films. There’s quite a good joke here in that the apparently realistic settings of the first half of the film turn out to be a simulation and we get a look at the low-tech reality … big empty spaces, a parking lot with skeleton structures marked ‘bank’, ‘police station’ etc, and odd bits of scenery as templates for a more realised environment. It’s a mind-twister, but a fairly generic effort …
Austin cop Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) is traumatised by the abduction of his young daughter and throws himself into a case which might be tangentally connected, in which random bank employees/bystanders/cops suddenly co-operate to pull off targeted heists which benefit a sinister whisperer (William Fichtner). Barging in on the latest crime, Rourke snatches the mcguffin – the only thing taken in any of the robberies, which have body counts, is a single item from a safety deposit box, which turns out to be a polaroid of the missing girl with an ominous message about a contrived character name (‘Lev Dell Rayne’) which is so obviously an anagram you’ll spend a couple of reels mentally rearranging the letters to get a solution which turns out to be arbitrary.
It has to do with ‘hypnotics’, enormously persuasive psychic prodigies who could easily come from a pitch for a Firestarter prequel (the pyro girl’s father has that gift) and have been fostered by a sinister government department (they all wear red blazers, like at Butlin’s) who are now out to shut them down or help them take over or do mean things to a cute little girl (Halan Finley, Ionie Nieves) and her devoted Dad. With Alice Braga as a store-front psychic who becomes Rourke’s partner when he goes on the run, carrying over quite a bit from her role in The New Mutants, and always welcome but sadly in and out too quick Jeff Fahey and Jackie Earle Haley. Fichtner is always good, too – but isn’t given the Daryl Revok/Magneto stature his role really requires. Something must be wrong with the universe because Danny Trejo is absent.