Reminiscence (United States, 2021)

August 19, 2021
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Reminiscence Poster

For her feature-film debut, Lisa Joy (Jonathan Nolan’s partner-in-crime on the HBO Westworld series) has attempted to graft futuristic elements onto an old-fashioned noir detective story. The result is disappointingly drab with contrived action sequences failing to enliven a humdrum narrative. Hugh Jackman, whose normally high-wattage presence can give a jolt to almost anything, is muted and the lack of chemistry between him and love interest Rebecca Ferguson creates a vacuum. (The two were previously paired, although not as lovers, in The Greatest Showman, where the connection was stronger.) The convoluted plot, overstuffed with tangents and red herrings, eventually reaches a lamentably unsurprising endpoint. Is that really it?

Reminiscence transpires in a futuristic (and partially underwater) iteration of Miami where a former soldier (two tours of duty), Nick Bannister (Jackman), uses an immersion tank and a VR headset to guide clients on a trip down memory lane. He and his partner, Watts (Thandiwe Newton), operate an outfit that sells the service; it is also used by law enforcement to investigate and solve crimes. Nick’s pragmatic, cynical outlook is challenged when he helps a woman, Mae (Ferguson), use the memory machine to locate her lost keys. The two connect and fall into a relationship that ends abruptly when Mae disappears. Obsessed with finding out what happened to her, Nick begins to abuse the memory machine, taking risks that displease Watts. His investigations uncover a conspiracy involving three dangerous men: the ultra-rich Walter Sylvan (Brett Cullen), a drug-dealer named Saint Joe (Daniel Wu), and the crooked cop Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis).

The screenplay’s handling of the memory machine feels “off” in several ways. This sort of make-believe technology, enabled by plumbing a person’s memories and using virtual reality to bring them to life, would seem to be rife with possibilities (some of which have been explored in the likes of Strange Days and the Star Trek TV episode “The Menagerie”), few of which are introduced. The concept of addiction to memories (analogous to drugs or alcohol) is touched on without depth or urgency. In the end, the memory machine becomes a convenient plot device by which the villain’s devious plan can be revealed in the final act. It’s a not-so-clever spin on the concept of the gunpoint confession.

Considering Joy’s previous work on Westworld and her association with the Nolans (Jonathan is her husband and Christopher, who has a producer credit, is her brother-in-law), I expected something more complex than a sci-fi cousin to Otto Preminger’s Laura. There are some Blade Runner influences, but those are in the nature of background touches. Jackman, reduced to playing a generic P.I.-type, loses a lion’s share of his inherent charisma. Newton’s Watts exudes a world-weary anger; Reminiscence has more energy when she’s around and her shared scenes with Jackman represent the film’s highlights. Unfortunately, after saving his bacon in an extended gunfight, she pretty much vanishes. And, although Rebecca Ferguson is unquestionably a good actress, she is miscast as a femme fatale.

The film’s endgame is disappointingly anticlimactic. Instead of going out with a bang, Reminiscence peters out, providing us with a long-winded visual explanation that fills in all the blanks. The chief villain is so unimpressive that I kept expecting there to be someone behind him, although the Law of Conservation of Characters would have made that difficult.

Perhaps the biggest flaw is that the relationship between Nick and Mae is inadequately developed for his fixation to be believable. For the obsession angle to work, the movie has to convey a depth passion that isn’t there. Jackman and Ferguson need to get to a Bogart/Bacall or Bogart/Bergman level, but their cool interactions never come close to ignition. Consequently, Nick’s desperation to find her (and willingness to go to reckless lengths in his search) feels artificial.

Although Reminiscence is made with care and competence and features a strong underlying premise, the film as a whole is forgettable.

Reminiscence (United States, 2021)

Director: Lisa Joy
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Daniel Wu, Brett Cullen
Home Release Date: 2021-11-09
Screenplay: Lisa Joy
Cinematography: Paul Cameron
Music: Ramin Djawadi
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers/HBOMax
Run Time: 1:56
U.S. Release Date: 2021-08-20
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)
Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1