By Elias Savada.
A sad debut feature for Lisa Joy, the co-creator, often executive producer and producer, and sometimes writer of HBO’s highly regarded Westworld series. Her vision here totters between genres and usually just reminds you of better film….”
With his Wolverine days behind him, his new role finds Hugh Jackman being further declawed in the noirish sci-fi entry Reminiscence, where he sloshes his way through a futuristic water world that showcases Miami after a few too many hurricanes. Climate change has taken its toll on the coastline and most buildings (the too many left standing — hard to believe that salt water hasn’t done more damage) and streets suggest a seedy sense of decay that might keep you interested. The turgid, waterlogged story sure didn’t.
It’s a sad debut feature for Lisa Joy, the co-creator, often executive producer and producer, and sometimes writer of HBO’s highly regarded Westworld series. Her vision here totters between genres and usually just reminds you of better films from them. Like any Humphrey Bogart/Sam Spade detective yarn, the rotting landscape of Blade Runner, the layered story of Inception, a frantic dash of Minority Report, among others.
Accompanying Jackman on this joyless journey into the mind is Thandiwe Newton, one of Joy’s star in Westworld, as a sidekick in his detective business, if you want to call it that. (Angela Sarafyan, who played android Clementine Pennyfeather in the first two seasons of the tv series, also has a supporting role.) As Nick Bannister and Emily “Watts” Sanders, they are war vets with mental scars, now running an aging business that caters to a few rich clients and some derelicts. It’s not a money maker. They retrieve lost memories using Bannister’s smooth-talking questioning and Watts’ business sense, not that either has much talent keeping their business afloat, although an occasional job from the local cops helps them sponge the system. It’s a retro-looking operation involving an immersion tank, some voltage, and a small circular, mesh-curtained amphitheater on which they watch their clients’ projected thoughts. It’s an interesting concept, as those recreated recollections are recorded on clear, acrylic-like cards, but the approach is all wrong. Obviously, there’s a huge potential for blackmail and other nefarious deeds, should these memory sticks get into the wrong hands. Harrumph.
Wherein enters Mae, the film’s idolized femme fatale (Rebecca Ferguson, who appeared opposite Jackman in 2017’s The Greatest Showman, but is best remembered for her past and future presence as Ilsa Faust in numerous Mission: Impossible films). Mae’s absent-mindely lost her keys and wants Nick, the poor (and probably smelly) schlub of a detective, to help. For reason’s later understood (well, she undresses in front of him a few times, so maybe that’s it), he’s immediately smitten. Maybe it’s a pheromone thing.
The film’s production design is captivating, partly because director Joy has borrowed much of the Westworld talent to create another fantasy world. Director of photography Paul Cameron, production designer Howard Cummings, editor Mark Yoshikawa, and composer Ramin Djawadi are along for the ride, creating a semi-submerged Miami (and a side trip to New Orleans) that’s fleshed out as a drab, night-time world of sleaze. Some of the story reflects on the haves and have-nots, and the rich side of town seems to flourish in its own looney tunes madness.
Yet, there’s barely enough in the film’s narrative to keep your eyes from drifting shut. It’s overly ambitious in design, and under-developed in just about everything else. There are occasional moments of better-than-rote acting, as in a minute or two when Newton talks about his estranged family (which makes for an interesting cameo at the movie’s end). It’s a derivative mess.
Maybe you’ll be swept up in the scifi trappings, but the “reminiscences” that the aging gumshoe is keen on (to a wildly addictive end) don’t make much sense as show in the film. We remember things as “we” see them, not from another person’s point-of-view, yet the memory moments are cut in such a way to do the exact opposite, and thud destroy the central illusion. Unless you’re looking in a mirror, your recollections always reflect other people, yet Joy and her technical team have created an arena atmosphere as if people could see themselves in their own remembrances, in a 360-degree environment like those 3D-esque EyeVision cameras strung in football stadiums.
There’s pulpy dullness afoot. Reminiscence, playing in theaters and on HBO Max, is one memory best forgotten.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).