There’s a movie out there. A long one, or maybe it just seems that way. It takes itself very seriously, like a desperate man, and you know that’s the case because it’s covered in narration just like this. And you’re pretty sure you’ve seen it before, or maybe you just think you have, but in the end you don’t really care because it’s just not that interesting. Yet, you persevere because you think: will this ever amount to anything, or am I just wasting my time? This is Reminiscence.
In a near-future urban dystopia, Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) runs a business where people can relieve their memories through a machine that projects these memories as holograms. His life takes a turn for the neo-noir when he meets obvious femme fatale Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), who he quickly begins having an affair with. When Mae vanishes, Nick becomes obsessed with finding her, getting drawn into a convoluted mess of plot threads that will all make sense in the end, we swear.
And it actually does make sense of some kind (if not any kind of earth-logic sense), but by the time you get there, you probably couldn’t give a sh*t because you’ll be so bored you just want everything to end.
There’s really not a nice way to say it. Reminiscence is a tedious, over-baked mess of good concepts stolen from better films and talented actors struggling to find meaning in their roles. I mean, I’ve seen Logan. I loved Logan. It ripped my heart out. I know Hugh Jackman is a great actor. So why does he sound so damn bored here, and why does his upset/angry/sad face look like a mash-up of constipation and the “Dawson crying” meme? Is he not trying, or is the material just so bad that even at his best, he seems like he’s not trying?
And he’s not the only one. Nearly every important member of the cast isn’t bringing their best game to this picture. Nobody truly coasts, but nobody really seems like they want to be there. The only person who seems like they’re having any fun at all is Daniel Wu, who has an extended cameo as a New Orleans crime boss named Saint Joe. He speaks with a stage actor’s Cajun drawl and drops random Mandarin words into every other sentence. Because, like, he’s Asian and stuff. But at least when he’s on screen, the movie comes alive for a moment.
The film doesn’t move through its story so much as it shambles like a golem composed of body parts stolen from better films in the middle of the night. A little of Dark City‘s metaphysical genre noir, some of Split Second‘s urban danger and flooded streets, and a whole lot of Blade Runner. So much Blade Runner.
And not the good, final cut version. We’re talking the horrible theatrical cut that’s full of Harrison Ford’s bored, tired narration that continually explains things to an audience the film thinks is too stupid to understand what they’re seeing. Even after they JUST saw it. There are so many times when Hugh Jackman’s voice over recaps things we saw ten seconds ago, repeats patently obvious ideas that were just touched upon in the previous scene, or just tells us exactly what he’s doing right now. This is a film about remembering the past that assumes the audience has the memory span of a fruit fly.
So much of this comes down to the script by writer/director Lisa Joy, one of the creators of Westworld. With her experience in that show, you’d think she’d come up with something more exciting, since this touches on many similar ideas. However, the film feels both hopelessly amateur and relentlessly professional at the same time. Joy is clearly trying to create a stylish, mind-bending mystery hinging on technology that seems like it could come from tomorrow, and to her credit the film does often looks great. But the dialogue is so inorganic, the narration so patronizing, the story so ridiculous that all of it comes off as pretentious and leaden. Joy even tries using the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as a metaphor for Nick and Mae, and she can’t even get the retelling of that story right in the first place.
A perfect example of Joy’s approach comes early on, when Nick is remembering the first time he…ahem…really met Mae. Their flirtation has hints of a fire, or at least it does everything it should to seem like it. It’s pretty boilerplate detective noir stuff, but it does the job. When Mae takes him home and the sexy times start however, it just looks…goofy. Awkward. Like a too-good-for-this director trying to make a classic erotic thriller for Cinemax late-night. Because it’s PG-13, though, we can’t actually see any sexy time fun so Joy cuts away from Mae and Nick to…a shot of a glass of water overflowing and spilling on to the floor. I mean, as metaphors go, it’s literal and obvious to the point of satire. But at least it’s framed real nice.
I should probably take a moment to say that the film isn’t all bad. Rebecca Ferguson does make a good femme fatale, and she’s far better than the material she’s given here. She even gets a few songs to sing (including in a scene that’s just about ripped directly from Dark City‘s playbook), and she sounds lovely. Her songs fit in well with Ramin Djawadi’s smoldering, pulsating score. Thandie Newton, as Nick’s tough-as-nails assistant Watts, does get some nice moments, too. This includes in one of the film’s two action scenes. More than anyone, Netwon’s able to sell the florid, purple dialogue of the script, but her deftness with it just highlights how clunky most of it is. She’s giving a good performance despite what she has to say, not because of it.
Hugh Jackman himself…he’s just kind of embarrassing half the time. He knows he’s better than this. He knows that there’s at least a dozen other Goslings or Evanses that could have been cast in his place. He’s giving us a B+ performance; doing what’s required of him and a little more but not nearly enough to make us give a damn about Nick, about his feelings for Mae, or about really anything else.
Reminicense is an inert film that should be anything but. Instead of tantalizing the audience with hints of a twisted mystery and a dark blue fire of a love affair, it drags us along while droning on about itself like a bored tour guide at a cheap museum. There’s nothing genuinely thrilling or exciting, and the only originality comes from how it mixes together its patently obviously influences together. The cast deserved better, the audience certainly deserves better, and maybe we should just take the film’s own advice and forget we ever saw it.
FBOTU Score: 4 out of 10 / C-
Reminiscence can be streamed exclusively on HBO Max. But you can stream Dark City and Split Second nearly everywhere else, and I’ll just set that here and let you decide.