Great cast, neat concept, promising director — but the movie is a good-looking mess
“Reminiscence” Rated PG-13 for strong violence, including torture, drug material throughout, sexual situations and some strong language. Running time: 116 minutes. (out of four)
With a knockout cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Thandiwe Newton and Rebecca Ferguson, a promising writer-director-producer in “Westworld” showrunner Lisa Joy making her feature debut, and a neat sci-fi concept, “Reminiscence” has all the ingredients for electrifying summer entertainment. But despite its considerable star power and impressive set pieces, the sprawling meditation on memory is simply an attractive mess.
In a futuristic Miami whose coastline has sunken under rising tides, Jackman’s Nick runs an unusual
business, with the help of an assistant (Newton): he sells the past. Nick’s regular customers know the drill: Get in a water tank and put on a headset, and you can relive your most cherished memories. Since this retrieved
content is projected in a life-size hologram, your hosts can watch too, and they keep files of this content for easy reference.
Of all the memory-recovering joints in all the sunken cities of the world she could have walked into, the mysterious, beautiful Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) walks into this one. She claims she needs the service to help her find her car keys — but is there something else she’s looking for?
Joy’s script uses its heady premise to play with chronology; just when you think you’re watching a scene in real time, Nick emerges from his own water tank with a jolt; he’s been obsessively replaying his own data — featuring Mae, who had a whirlwind romance with Nick, but one day just disappeared.
It’s not a bad setup, however much it touches on “La Jetée,” “Vertigo,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and other memorythemed films. But the hardboiled dystopia is overwrought, with Nick’s narration waxing purple at times. Every extracted moment, he says, is “a bead on the necklace of time.” (If you forget it the first time, don’t worry, they will recover it for you.)
It’s hard to take your eyes off this cast, but even Hollywood’s hottest talent can’t quite sell an overripe neonoir that plays like a TV pilot. So it’s kind of a relief when, after a corny, atmospheric first act, “Reminiscence” turns into a sci-fi action movie, populated with colorful bad guys such as New Orleans underworld leader Saint Joe (Daniel Wu) and corrupt cop Cyrus Booth (Cliff Curtis). This criminal setting provides for a terrific fight scene, and gives Newton’s character a chance to break out of her sidekick role.
Unfortunately, “Reminiscence” takes too many detours. For every scene that works - and there are plenty - there’s one that goes off the rails. (Speaking of which, it’s curious how, in this nearapocalyptic metropolis, there seems to be a fairly reliable commuter train.) The cast keeps us interested but not enough. And by the end, the echoes of “Blade Runner” that keep piling up culminate in one ridiculous recollection. You’ll remember “Reminiscence,” all right, but as much for what doesn’t work as for what does.