Memories Consume Hugh Jackman in Forgettable Sci-Fi Noir ‘Reminiscence’
Memory is a powerful thing in “Reminiscence,” a visually stunning yet convoluted sci-fi noir set in a dystopian future. Hugh Jackman stars as Nick Bannister, a war vet who runs a service that allows patrons to relive memories. It’s a complex process that involves wearing headgear and floating in a tank of water, so it’s mostly people wanting to relive the happiest moments of their lives who partake, and a great number of his clients are those who have been hit hard by the war and its aftermath. Their memories have become the brightest spots in their lives, so when beautiful lounge singer Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) walks in late one night asking for help finding her keys, it seems a little strange. However, Nick doesn’t give it too much thought before he starts to pursue her after she, keeping with the memory theme, draws him in by signing the Rodgers and Hart standard “Where or When,” a song connected to his past. The pair go on to have a passionate affair for a few months before she disappears completely, leaving him devastated and willing to find her by any means possible, even if it means risking his career, his relationship with his employee and only friend Watts (Thandiwe Newton), and his own safety.
“Reminiscence” is the feature debut from “Westworld” co-creator Lisa Joy, who overbuilds the world of the film. The story is set in Miami after global warming has left most of the city underwater, and people rely on water taxis and other boats to get around. The change in climate also means that it is too hot for people to be out during the day, and society has become nocturnal, with most businesses, including Nick’s, only being open at night. It’s a visually stunning film, but there’s a lot of ugliness in this world, and only the richest people in the city, those called the barons, live on dry land. Viewers cannot help but find parallels between the society depicted in the film and the one we currently live in, as corruption and class inequality has caused many to take to the streets in protest.
A regular client of Nick’s is Elsa (Angela Sarafyan), a thirty-something woman who regularly comes in to relive her tryst with an older man, and Watts jokes about having to look at the man’s pasty behind. This seems like a throwaway scene that merely serves to illustrate what Nick and Watts do, but it comes to be important after Mae steals all of Elsa’s recorded memories before she skips town. Nick soon finds out that Mae revealed her past issues with drugs to Watts, which leads Watts to think that worst when she disappears, while Nick, blinded by love, believes the opposite. While almost all signs point to femme fatale, Mae’s story, which benefits from being written by a woman, proves to be more complicated.
For extra cash, Nick and Watts work for the Miami district attorney’s office, and while searching through the memories of a corrupt cop, Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis), Nick spots Mae, and his search for answers puts him on a twisty path that puts him in contact with not only Boothe, but also a dangerous New Orleans gangster, Saint Joe (Daniel Wu), the mentally unstable wife of a dead baron, Tamara Sylvan (Marina de Tavira), who also clings to the past, and the baron’s weak adult son, Sebastian (Mojean Aria). Understandably, Watt, who is actually the most interesting character due to her layered backstory that involves an estranged daughter, becomes frustrated with Nick as he becomes more and more neglectful with the business.
Overall, “Reminiscence” is an alluring feature for Joy. It is a shame that the world she creates fades into the background once Nick gets sucked into the somewhat convoluted conspiracy. And, while Jackman and Ferguson are both fine actors, the lack of chemistry between the two makes it somewhat difficult for the viewer to get fully invested into a story that involves a man’s all-consuming love for a woman. While Jackman certainly drives the film, Newton deserves credit for her nuanced performance as an alcoholic with a haunted past who ends up serving as being the most reasonable character.
“Reminiscence” releases Aug. 20 on HBO Max and in theaters nationwide.