Reminiscence (2 ½ Stars out of 4)
Have you ever watched a movie and thought to yourself: “I like this world, but I want to hear a different story?”
Maybe it’s just me.
“Reminiscence” is a kind of sci-fi noir meditation on a universal sentiment, a mystery-thriller set in a post-apocalyptic future. But in spite of a strong cast and a compelling premise, director Lisa Joy’s intriguing parts add up to a less-than-satisfying cinematic whole.
The movie opens on a dystopian Miami of the not-too-distant future, where rising sea levels have flooded much of the coastal cities around the world. A brooding voiceover from the protagonist tells us about our relationship with time, specifically with our checkered pasts.
The protagonist is Nick (Hugh Jackman), a war veteran who has made his way into a unique line of work. With a special technology involving an immersion tank and a holographic projector, Nick’s clients can retreat into their own memories in a sort of virtual nostalgia lounge.
Though it’s easy to imagine the popularity of such a place, it has become something of an addicting crutch for a number of people alienated by their post-apocalyptic lives, and it’s no surprise that Nick is one of them. He has become obsessed with re-living memories of a brief fling sometime in his past.
After a few happy months of romance, Nick’s mysterious lounge singer girlfriend Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) simply vanished, and despite the protest of his business partner (Thandie Newton)—a fellow war veteran—he’s convinced there is something shady about the whole affair.
“Reminiscence,” follows Nick as he uses the technology to conduct an investigation that eventually ties in various local characters and subplots, and as you might expect, reveals that there is more to the story than a simple failed romance.
Watching “Reminiscence,” it’s easy to pick up on echoes of past moody sci-fi films like “Blade Runner” and especially “Minority Report,” which used a similar tank-projection setup to predict the future (rather than re-live the past). It launches from a very relatable idea—the obsession with our past tragedies and triumphs—and the moody setting leaves you wanting to know (and see) more of this Sunken Miami.
But in spite of the promising concept and the two strong leads, “Reminiscence” just doesn’t feel like the movie you really wanted. I’ve enjoyed watching Jackman since his first turn as Wolverine, and Ferguson since she went toe-to-toe with Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible.” But here, their characters are kind of bland and under-developed. You can argue that this is part of the unfolding mystery mythos, but even once the credit rolls, you don’t know or care much for either character.
At times you also feel like you’d rather see a different movie set in the same universe. Nick’s persistent references to the war that took place alongside the ecological travesty sounds like a story worth seeing, and the few fleeting looks we get at Miami leave us wanting to see what’s going on elsewhere around this world (and what kind of an impact it’s had on “flyover country,” though that might be too much to ask).
The biggest problem might be that the more Nick uncovers, the less interesting the movie becomes—a pretty fatal flaw in a genre that leans on suspense. “Reminiscence” is heavy on style and its ponderous mood, and even though it frequently leaps between the present day and its various holographic visions, it’s not hard to follow.
It’s a film that’s easy to relate to; it’s just hard too to care about.
“Reminiscence” is rated PG-13 for a mix of profanity, violence, and suggestive/sexual content, all consistent with the film noir genre.