Embrace the “Blade Runner” sci-fi noir look, the post apocalyptic gloom and the embittered voice-over of the jaded hero, and you can roll with the punches “Reminiscence” throws at you. For a while, anyway.
“Nothing is more addictive than the past,” the grizzled Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) muses. And that’s what people do, escape to the past — after the U.N. and Al Gore’s long-warned of climate catastrophe.
“When the waters rose and the wars broke out” this combat vet did his part to guard the higher ground. Now, he’s in mostly-flooded Miami, and yes, Miami never looked better — half-drowned, but cooler.
Nick and his former comrade-in-arms (Thandiwe Newton) offer a service here. Reminiscence is tech that might have been developed to augment interrogations. Put people in a (not-so-isolated) isolation tank, wire them up and let them replay the moments of their lives that meant something — falling in love, time with family, playing with a beloved dog.
The authorities use it as a threat against high-placed criminals who answer “I don’t recall” too many times. But Nick and Watts (Newton) sell it to the general public, with him hypnotically leading each client through a “Twilight Zone” narration that takes them “on a journey through memory.”
There’s always a dame in such film noirs, and this one (Rebecca Ferguson) says she’s just trying to find her lost keys. But as Nick and Watts watch Mae’s memories unfold (cool effect), the sultry nightclub “chanteuse” gives away that she’s mixed up in things, things which might connect her with a corrupt cop (Cliff Curtis) and one of the “barons” that runs this Waterworld.
Nick is intrigued, and smitten. “Reminiscence” is about his hunt for Mae, for answers and for closure — romantic, legal, etc.
“Westworld” producer and writer Lisa Joy scripted and directed this film, which is memorable only for a couple of acting moments, and the striking images of what Miami looks like when it’s half-drowned. Pedestrians wade the streets in Wellingtons, dinghies putter about as taxis, as some of the high rises are still inhabited with waves lapping at the ground floor.
The rich have “dammed” their way to safety and comfort, walled-off islands that keep the waters from their door, but flood everyone else’s. In light of recent a recent Miami building disaster (a subplot here) and the more recent IPCC report on the unfolding climate catastrophe, “Reminiscence” seems downright timely.
But this story, this plot? It goes off the rails faster than a Miami commuter train scooting over half-flooded tracks.
The third act’s twists and wrinkles aren’t worth the brain power it takes to sort them out. The scheme uncovered plays as low stakes, the violence simply an admission that “We need to give the audience something for their money.”
The film is forgettably similar to Neill Blomkamp’s “Demonic” in its “travel through memory/dreams” theme. His misfire also opens this week. But he didn’t spend Warner Brothers’ millions upon millions on his picture.
“Reminiscence” is the sort of flop that can make one appreciate the series-length hollowness of the Joy’s most famous work, “Westworld.” Yes, the acting’s good, with Newton showing us more shades of her much-deserved comeback. The themes engaged with are intriguing and the world created is arresting.
But what do you do with it? Joy, aka Christopher Nolan’s sister-in-law, has no idea. That makes “Reminiscence” a classic “August” movie, a high-priced all-star dud dumped in cinema’s slowest month and forgotten by Labor Day.
Rating: PG-13 for strong violence, drug material throughout, sexual content and some strong language
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Daniel Wu and Cliff Curtis
Credits: Scripted and directed by Lisa Joy. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 1:56