Is Warner Bros so desperate to stay in the Christopher Nolan business that it’s willing to greenlight even his friends and family’s bottom-drawer pitches? The studio has done this before, when it splurged an unreasonable amount on the deathly dull Transcendence, directed by Nolan’s longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister. The ominously similar-sounding Reminiscence, helmed by Nolan’s sister-in-law Lisa Joy, also happens to involve head gizmos, but it isn’t nearly as terrible as that movie.
A hodgepodge of genres and tones, Reminiscence commits the cardinal sin of being so uninteresting that it basically invites the viewer to fondly recall the older movies that it brazenly rips off. Ironically, this also works as a description of the film’s central premise.
Watch the Reminiscence trailer here:
In a future world where coastal cities have been partially submerged and people have adopted a nocturnal lifestyle because the daytime is too hot to function, war veteran Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) runs a skeevy business through which paying customers can revisit past memories in a bid to escape the harsh realities of the world. Nick’s clients come in all shapes and sizes — some just want to relive old love affairs, while others want to remember what it was like to have limbs.
He’s visited, one day, by a femme fatale. There’s no other way to describe her. As shards of light waft in through the Venetian blinds in Nick’s office, and the silhouetted figure of Rebecca Ferguson saunters in, you begin to wonder if the movie is having a laugh at your expense with its on-the-nose film noir references. This dame has trouble written all over her, and Nick’s brain is too fuzzy to notice.
She calls herself Mae, and she sounds like Kathleen Turner and dresses like Lola Bunny. Would Nick please help her find her lost keys? It wouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Of course he would.
There are interesting ideas at play here, but Joy’s filmmaking is just… joyless. Whether or not this is a result of endless studio tampering, I don’t know, but there’s a sense that entire scenes were shoehorned in with the sole purpose of making the core mechanics of the technology more accessible. This is not only unnecessary, but also deeply irritating to watch.
Reminiscence is the kind of movie in which characters say things like “It’s been 12 hours!” and “For months you’ve been hitting the tank, reliving every memory you had with her,” to people who know exactly how long it has been, and are fully aware of the endless existential spiral they’re trapped in. But thanks for letting us know, movie. If only I could bring myself to care about any of this.
A Nolan-adjacent joint wouldn’t be a Nolan-adjacent joint without poor dialogue, and Reminiscence has that in spades. On top of that, it has Jackman do a Blade Runner-inspired voiceover that starts off eye-rollingly pretentious and eventually becomes unintentionally humorous. Speaking of spades, Jackman is doing a Humphrey Bogart here. He’s now old enough to reliably sell regret on screen. His trademark frown is more pronounced, as are the lines on his face, and to Joy and his cinematographer Paul Cameron’s credit, they rely heavily on Jackman’s weathered face to do a lot of the emotional heavy-lifting, because certainly, the plot isn’ t doing anyone any favours.
It involves corruption, deceit, and moral quandaries — all noir staples — but Joy’s screenplay leans in so heavily on genre tropes (Nick even does Jake Gittes cosplay in one scene) that the film’s dystopian setting (and its environmentalism) comes across as an afterthought . If you think about it, the futuristic Miami of the movie adds nothing to the experience, besides, perhaps, some atmosphere.
Reminiscence hinges on a romantic relationship that is never really established, thereby removing any chance of the audience being invested in Nick’s journey, and an inherently flawed central premise that crumbles under the slightest scrutiny. If the future really is so bad that it makes people want to live in the past, then this only applies to the middle-aged uncles and aunties who are mature enough to remember the good old days. In 10 years, this tech would become obsolete, because the people with purchasing power would’ve grown up in the dystopia, with no Before Times to revisit.
It’s always a good sign when studios are open to taking risks with expensive original ideas, but reminiscence is hardly original. It’s a rehash of proven formulas at best, and at worst, it resembles something that a bot barfed out after being force-fed every Nolan script for breakfast.
Director – Lisa Joy
Cast – Hugh Jackman, Thandiwe Newton, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar