Monday, May 20, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Reminiscence’ is a Painfully Dull Dystopian Misfire

Director: Lisa Joy
Writer: Lisa Joy
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis

Plot: Nick Bannister, a private investigator of the mind, navigates the alluring world of the past when his life is changed by new client Mae. A simple case becomes an obsession after she disappears and he fights to learn the truth about her.


There’s a terrific scene early on in Reminiscence, written and directed by Lisa Joy, where Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) watches a memory play out before him of his newest client Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a lounge singer who steps before a microphone and belts out an emotional song that clearly cuts into his heart, his fascination in her growing by the second. It’s a gorgeously rendered couple of minutes that draw you in with mystery and intrigue as to what might be coming next.

The problem is that over the next hour and a half, nothing ever comes close to the power of this scene, the derivative plot rapidly sinking into obvious twists and cliches in a confused narrative that amounts to little more than a subpar Twilight Zone episode stretched to feature-length. Joy, who worked in many capacities on the excellent HBO series Westworld, brings in some of the actors from that show and gives them and many others nothing to do throughout this over-long enterprise, one filled with regurgitations of ideas from much better films like Minority Report, Inception, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

In a dystopian future, Bannister is a private investigator of the mind, working in a technologically advanced space with his partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton, sadly wasted in this) where he caters to those wanting to revisit better times from years ago when so much of the world’s cities weren’t half-sunken underwater. Of course, to access those memories, his subjects have to submerge themselves in water, which Mae does one seemingly inauspicious day that ultimately sets Bannister on a dangerous journey into violence, corruption, and heartache.

There are some interesting ideas at play in Reminiscence, but the whole endeavor ultimately feels hollow and tired; hell, Hugh Jackman himself looks tired all the way through, clearly not connecting with this material in a way he has in so many of his better projects of late. Jackman was hit-or-miss in the 2000s, with his appearances as Wolverine and the occasional gem like Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige intermixed with duds like Scoop and Deception. Lately, however, he’s been on quite a roll, his performances in Logan, The Greatest Showman, and particularly Bad Education showcasing his talent in endless exciting ways.

Reminiscence, sadly, is a big step back for Jackman, a film he sleepwalks through with little passion, his performance flat even when he’s over-the-top emoting near the end. He might have been intrigued by the premise and Joy’s spectacular work on Westworld, but this is the perfect example of a film that at some point went haywire not necessarily during production or post-production but during the screenwriting phase, nobody stopping to consider that the words themselves might need another pass. The dialogue throughout the film is clunky, there’s almost no tension, the pacing is extremely slow, and the characters are too thin to ever care about.

Worse, the film has murky, overly slick cinematography that makes it appear like a pilot for a new HBO series and not like a feature film. I know movies and television are blending together more these days than ever before, but everything from the awkward staging of scenes to the numerous fake-looking overhead shots of a future Miami submerged in water ultimately gives the endeavor a feel of TV, and not the good kind. If this were the first episode of a new series, I wouldn’t recommend anyone continue, and as a self-contained feature, it’s somehow even more underwhelming.

The supporting cast does what it can, particularly Ferguson, always a charismatic and welcome presence on screen even when given an underwritten character like this one. Cliff Curtis has some fun in a villainous role, and Angela Sarafyan, so great on Westworld, makes an impression even with screen-time that amounts to little more than a cameo. There’s also some joy at times purely in watching Jackman and Ferguson together on-screen again following their pairing in the much more crowd-pleasing The Greatest Showman.

But for the most part, Reminiscence is a painful slog, a tragic misfire, easily one of the giant turkeys of 2021 that no one will be talking about a year from now. It will be one of those titles on an actor’s resume that many people will later on scratch their heads wondering what it even was. On a cruise ship awhile back I played a movie trivia game where you had to guess film titles based on seeing part of the poster, and the only title out of forty I missed was Transcendence from 2014, the forgettable Johnny Depp effort that along with this similarly titled film has ties to Christopher Nolan. Odds are if the poster to Reminiscence ever makes its way into that cruise ship trivia game in the future, achieving a perfect forty out of forty will still be out of my grasp.

Grade: D-

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