In one respect the new film “Reminiscence” shines on its star power wattage alone. Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson are a handsome pair and each possess their own uniquely magnetic acting styles. “Reminiscence” also sports an intriguing premise that melds together science-fiction, classic romance and hard-boiled 1940s film noir. If only all of those tantalizing pieces came together as they should.
“Reminiscence” is written and directed by Lisa Joy, the sister-in-law of filmmaker Christopher Nolan. In her ambitious first feature, Joy shows off some of the same imagination as her famous brother-in-law. Her high concept story has all the ingredients of a cool vintage noir – the gloomy narration, the sultry femme fatale, a tortured detective-like protagonist. Also its not-to-distant sci-fi dystopia makes for an interesting setting.
But despite its promise, “Reminiscence” is more of a sampler platter of numerous other films. There’s a touch of “Inception”, a pinch of “The Maltese Falcon”, a dash of “Blade Runner”, and a smidgen of “Minority Report”. It’s also a movie rich with intriguing concepts that are never explored in a satisfying way. That’s because too much time is put into an undercooked romance that has the spark but not the sizzle it needs.
Jackman and Ferguson appeared together in 2017’s “The Greatest Showman” but this is a MUCH different movie. It takes place mostly in Miami where rising water levels have left it (and presumably every other major city) standing in water. In fact, rather than cars, boats are now the most efficient means of transportation. Also, the city is mostly nocturnal with businesses opening up at night so people can avoid the unbearable heat of the day.
Jackman plays Nick Bannister, who has a rather peculiar business that he runs out of an old abandoned bank. With the world so bleak people with nothing to look forward to have started looking back and Nick helps them. In one of many bits of narration he explains his work like this: “Memory is the boat that sails against its current. And I’m the oarsman.” Clear as mud, right?
Basically people come in for sessions in a casket-shaped device Nick calls “the tank”. It was once an interrogation tool during a fairly ambiguous “war” that’s mentioned often but never really explained. Now the machine is used to reconnect people to their favorite memories. And as they do, Nick and his hard-drinking assistant Watts (Thandiwe Newton) watch a three-dimensional holographic projection of what’s going on in their clients’ minds.
One day right at closing time, in walks Mae (Ferguson), a beautiful yet mysterious nightclub singer. Literally within seconds, without much buildup or explanation, Nick is infatuated with her. The two begin a brief love affair until Mae suddenly vanishes. Obsessed with finding her, Nick becomes what the press notes describe as a “private investigator of the mind”, tossing aside his work and even his friendship with Watts to find Mae.
As you can probably guess, his lovesick search for answers steers him down some dangerous paths, and it takes the story in all sorts of directions. And unfortunately the more it branches out the more convoluted it all gets. Both Jackman and Ferguson do their best to keep things interesting while a really good performance from Newton is wasted. Her character’s biggest contributions are nagging Nick to stay out of the tank, downing whiskey, and providing the spark in her one action scene. After that she essentially disappears.
Also the movie teases a captivating world full of corruption, oppression and suffering that’s just begging to be explored. There’s all of this stuff about ruthless land barons buying up all the dry land and the above-mentioned war that left society in shambles. But most of what we learn about it comes through passing mentions in conversations or vague references during some narration. It’s a shame because in many ways the world is more compelling than the story’s central mystery.
In the end, “Reminiscence” ends up being a movie with lots on its mind but no sure way of unpacking it all. Its attractive cast and cool genre blending definitely works in the movie’s favor. But Joy is never able to rev up the kind of excitement a movie like this needs. It just hums along at one temperature, teasing us with a better movie and never quite delivering on what it promises. “Reminiscence” is now showing in theaters and on HBO Max.