Reminiscence is a sort of sci-fi, mostly film noir detective story, and a whole lot of meaningless plot twisting. There have been a few fantastic sci-fi/noir mash ups, Blade Runner is the gold standard of the genre, but Reminiscence only has faint sci-fi trappings in a rote gumshoe obsession/lost love story. The actors are giving their all but, unfortunately, the backstory and world is a lot more interesting than the actual movie itself. It’s basically just Hugh Jackman watching holographic home movies and randomly snarling about the injustice of it all for almost two hours which is not exactly compelling.
In the future, Nick (Jackman) runs a service with Watts (Thandiwe Newton) that lets people relive their memories by diving into a water tank, plugging electrodes on their head and feeling the sensation of their memories as a holographic projector plays it out. It’s explained the technology was developed as a means of interrogation although there’s no reason why Nick and Watts have to watch everything. Anyway, Watts is sick of using depressed people for repeat business but Nick is willing to let it go as it lets people experience happiness in a dreary, water-soaked world. Into their office walks Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) who needs help finding her keys. This simple act leads to a complex relationship between Nick and Mae until one day she randomly disappears. Distraught, Nick dives into the seedy underbelly of criminal memories and finds her hanging out with crooks like Cyrus (Cliff Curtis) and Saint Joe (Daniel Wu). Now he confronts those crooks but uncovers an even deeper conspiracy that may end with him dead.
The setting and backstory of Reminiscence is, frustratingly, more interesting than the film itself. Everyone is bummed out but that’s because the waters have risen so high cities are perpetually flooded at street level. Also, temperatures get so hot during the day everyone has become nocturnal. The damp nighttime vibe fits with the Blade Runner homage and Jackman’s overcoat wearing is a noir genre staple. There’s also constant running voice over Nick provides which makes it feel more like a detective story. First person narration is a tricky thing to pull off properly; it either needs to be profound like in Shawshank Redemption or twisty like in Fight Club. Otherwise, it just comes off as hacky. The original theatrical release of Blade Runner had a terrible voice over and unless this movie is trying to make an oblique homage to that, this voice over is a whiff. Most of it is Nick relating backstory and some vaguely pretentious philosophical rambling.
The technology is a mix between high tech and clunky analog which gives it a physicality that is interesting visually but also impractical. Reminiscence is set in the future with magical mind-reading projection technology but everyone is carting around physical discs of memories like 5 inch floppies. Nick and Watts participate in an interrogation using an “old rig” that instead of projecting a hologram it’s like they’re watching a black and white movie. Cool visual but doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are a few interesting technical ideas such as asking a leading question to someone in the tank will cause them to freak out so Nick has to lead them on their journey. Or “burning” someone is reliving a memory too many times that it becomes their present day reality. There are a couple of cool consequences of this, an old lady is dancing with her deceased husband over and over, or when Nick intentionally burns a bad guy with horrible memories.
Jackman is an always dependable actor and even he struggled to make Nick more than a voyeur creep watching people’s memories for money. He’s better when he’s playing the determined investigator trying to find out what happened to Mae. Nick and Watts are old war buddies which is a reason to have Watts and Nick in an action scene. At least the one shootout the movie grants is kind of badass and breaks up the monotony of Nick watching memories. Mae is summed up dismissively by Watts as “an idea wrapped in a tight dress” which is a bit close to the script critiquing its own character work. There are a lot of layers to Mae as she goes from object of love to dangerous crook. Ferguson is good at anything but Mae seems like a whole lot more trouble than she’s worth. Newton gets to be the sassy support who tells Nick his investigation is an incredibly stupid idea. Frankly, she should have been listened to. She also gets some tragic family relationships which get promptly settled by the finale. Wu and Curtis personify the villainy and both are borderline cartoonish caricatures with Curtis having Blofeld style facial scarring to indicate his villainy. At least Wu’s Saint Joe gets in a good evil monologue.
The conspiracy of what happened to Mae is tied up with deep dark secrets of men in power which is also a staple of the gumshoe genre, although it doesn’t make this any better. Overall it’s a dull mystery movie with some sci-fi trappings set in a post-global warming disaster world. It looks cool but Reminiscence isn’t anywhere near as profound as it pretends to be.
Director: Lisa Joy
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Thandiwe Newton, Rebecca Ferguson and Natalie Martinez