Reminiscence is silly, arch, and derivative, an objective failure that nonetheless manages to entertain even as it induces eye rolls.
It’s kind of fashionable these days to point out how movies (especially genre movies) not based on preexisting IP or part of a franchise are both a dying breed and a throwback of sorts to the programmers of a few decades ago, particularly the mid-’90s. Reminiscence, however, takes that to a whole new level. A dorky, earnest sci-fi detective story with a ’40s noir aesthetic, production-designed within an inch of its life, covered liberally with terrible purple dialogue, and propped up with a ruinous voiceover that you almost can’t believe wasn’t a studio mandate. Think something like Dark City or The Thirteenth Floor. For its part, Reminiscence will in all likelihood go the forgotten route of the latter rather than finding the cult status of the former.
Miami of the future is flooded and its activities nocturnal due to climate change and border wars, and Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) has carved out a niche for himself using ex-military tech to let people re-experience the happiest moments of their lives — nostalgia is his trade. But he’s also hopelessly addicted to the memory of the woman he loved and lost, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), whose disappearance he can’t move on from. When he stumbles upon a new clue to what happened to her, his obsession predictably takes hold. It’s a nifty idea, riffing on the cyberpunk aesthetic while retaining its own certain quirks. And a lot of Reminiscence is indeed plenty intriguing (if still wholly derivative), but it’s hamstrung by a deliberately (and annoyingly) circuitous script that stuffs endless, ponderous exposition and turgid prose into its characters’ mouths. “The past is a bead on the necklace of time,” says Nick, more than once, in some truly egregious narration, and you might never stop laughing.
Writer-director Lisa Joy (co-creator of the equally, lifelessly pretentious Westworld series), to her credit, does a good job of creating some arresting images; a flooded metropolis, floating Hoovervilles, and the memory tech itself, a proscenium-like curtain upon which images are projected. But it’s all just propped up by gobbledygook. Jackman in particular is both arsonist and fireman, fully committed to the absurdity of his simultaneous tough-guy/sad-sack, and in absolute theater-kid bozo mode with his sudden outbursts of shouting, forehead vein a-popping. Ferguson is literally and figuratively a dream woman, more a Macguffin and totem than a character, while most valuable player honors easily go to Thandiwe Newton as Watts, Nick’s partner and fellow war vet, an alkie badass with her own dark past, channelling a little bit of Angela Bassett in yet another ’90s sci-fi neo-noir, Strange Days (see also the recording of memories). It’s all wrapped up with a seriously extraneous attempt at class consciousness that feels nothing but tacked on. And yet… Reminiscence is never even remotely boring, and its relative slickness and earnestness go down quite smoothly, even as you can’t help but eye-roll at the sheer silliness of it all. The film might ultimately be a total strikeout, but you’d be forgiven for enjoying the huge swing.
You can currently catch Lisa Joy’s Reminiscence in theaters or stream it on HBO Max.