On paper “Reminiscence” had the potential to be an intriguing sci-fi noir. It had capable names attached including Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson starring and freshman director Lisa Joy bringing some much-needed female presence in the sci-fi genre. Add to it that Joy’s partner Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher Nolan, helped produce the film and you have a feature that could and maybe should have been the next mind-bending genre wonder. Sadly, it’s definitely mind bending but to the point of being borderline incomprehensible at times and is far from a wonder. “Reminiscence” focuses on military veteran Nick Bannister (Jackman) who operates a machine that allows clients to access their memories and relive moments of their lives. However when he meets and falls in love with a mysterious client named Mae (Ferguson) Nick must put together the pieces and use his knowledge of memories to uncover a deadly conspiracy. If that sounds like a lot it’s because it is as “Reminiscence” itself likes to reminisce on better films, inevitably feeling like a hollow shell inspired by much better material.
To it’s credit “Reminiscence” is bold in its scope and concepts. The whole film takes place in a near-future Florida where climate change has forced humanity to live at night and water levels to flood the land. As the film progresses impressive visuals and a neat gimmick that addresses our obsession with memory and nostalgia over reality (especially in a digital age) give it some surface-level substance but not enough to overpower its many flaws, the first and biggest of which being that the movie has a major identity problem. “Reminiscence” could have, and at times feels like it’s trying to be the next “Inception”, not necessarily surprising seeing as director and writer Lisa Joy is married to Christopher Nolan’s brother and has surely been influenced by the Nolans’ works. Honestly I could have lived with this film being a diet-“Inception” knock-off. It could have been fun to see a crime thriller that more fully involves delving into memories instead of dreams considering that memories can’t change but dreams evolve over time so the mystery would lie in what happened not what can happen. “Reminiscence” does explore some intriguing ground as to how playing with memories works in its world, but it does very little with it with the entire concept of memory examination feeling more like a means to an end when it should have been more front and center. Instead of taking its concept to the next level “Reminiscence” does something quite risky that unfortunately doesn’t pay off in the end. It attempts to meld sci-fi with crime noir.
Now this isn’t an unusual combination. In fact there’s a whole subgenre called tech-noir that’s comprised of terrific sci-fi classics like “The Terminator” and “Blade Runner”. “Reminiscence” isn’t quite in that subgenre, but it’s still a neo-noir with heavy sci-fi elements. Unfortunately it fails to blend the genres in an interesting and engaging way often getting caught between being a sci-fi mindbender and a crime mystery. Regardless of which genre it applies to more, “Reminiscence” feels far to familiar borrowing ideas, aesthetics and tone among other important elements that make up a movie from far greater works of both modern and classic cinema while failing to emulate the charm of any of its predecessors. This movie frankly doesn’t know what it wants to be and I had no idea what was going on half the time because either the film didn’t make it clear or I wasn’t invested enough to care. That brings me to the second big issue of many with this film: it’s boring. “Reminiscence” drags on, taking several turns down alleyways that make it difficult to keep up with all the intertwining threads. Somehow a story about reliving memories evolves into a missing persons case and then into a crime film eventually coming back to a thematic sci-fi drama and none of it feels cohesive or coherent. If you could pay attention long enough to follow this movie I envy you because this film just didn’t grab me in any way. Well, actually that’s a lie. There is one genuinely good thing I took away from this movie.
The performers are the saving grace of this picture in my opinion with Hugh Jackman being the centerpiece and proving that despite what “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” has shown he can shine through the fog of mediocrity in a bad film. Jackman feels like the most fully invested actor on screen and while his overly dramatic voiceover narration only serves to further point out the storytelling errors of this screenplay, Jackman himself brings just the right mix of dreary monotone and frustrated concern to the role making me actually believe that he cares about what he’s trying to solve, even if I didn’t know exactly what he was doing most of that time. Rebecca Ferguson, while overshadowed heavily by her “The Greatest Showman” co-star, also continues to prove she’s much more talented than many of the subpar films she has settled for have allowed her to be. The finale of the movie, basically the last 30 minutes or so, truly brings out the best of both of these actors and finally tackles the heart of the story and the relationship their characters share on screen. This moment was for me the best part of the film and the only true scene that melded its different genres as well as it’s emotional and thematic depth properly and used the memory machine idea in a truly inspired way. But, it only makes up a small portion of a third of the movie, far from enough to make up for all the issues that keep “Reminiscence ” from rising to the occasion.
While I love sci-fi films, especially ones with some genuine thematic depth, “Reminiscence” is nothing I’ll be recommending to anyone seeking coherent and engrossing storytelling. It’s slow, confused and fails to be much of anything by trying to be too many things at the same time. There was potential here and the actors prove it by spending the last few minutes of the movie bringing out the thematic depth that could and should have been better explored in a movie about finding balance between memory and reality, but the movie gets so caught up in trying to be the next great neo-noir, sci-fi feature or both that it fails at being great at either. The result is nothing short of a jumbled batch of clichés borrowed from countless other superior films and melded into an incoherent mess. Needless to say, I did not enjoy this movie and it’s certainly nothing I’ll be reminiscing on any time soon.