Despite a smart cast and original premise, Lisa Joy’s Reminiscence bogs down a moody thriller with overly complex explanations and plot contrivances to deliver a whole that is less than the sum of its parts.
Hugh Jackman stars as Nick Bannister, a private investigator who utilizes a machine which allows people to relive memories. Along with his partner Emily “Watts” Sanders (Thandiwe Newton), life is about scraping by in a post-war futuristic flooded Miami. Nick and Watts run into a client named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) who needs help finding her keys.
Nick falls in love with her and they begin a romance, much to the chagrin of the distrustful Watts. Without warning, Mae disappears. Hoping to gain insight into why she would leave, Nick accesses his own memories to investigate where Mae went and where he can find her.
Joy creates a dark, moody atmosphere in partially sunken Miami. Most people travel by boat to sunken skycrapers, while the streets without flooding still have plenty of standing water. A completed but unspecified war hangs over everything and Nick and Watts’ service lends credence to some of their physical attributes. There also exists a palpable tension between the lower rungs of society and the “land barons” who control the dry land and have dammed up the remaining land.
Jackman’s voiceover dominates the story with near-constant exposition. Despite the story’s complexity, nothing is left to the imagination, but the audience is also overloaded with information. No lead is a dead end, no chance encounter is accidental and no person is superfluous to the story. It all adds up to too much of everything. Too much exposition, too much atmosphere, too much of too much.
Jackman does his level best to take it all as seriously as possible, though his potential to take it a hair less seriously could have served the film well. Ferguson nails her femme fatale role, inhabiting both the complex emotional beats as well as the slinky physical embodiment. Jackman and Ferguson’s palpable sexual chemistry give the film added texture. Newton nails the film’s tone better than anyone else, playing off Jackman well and acting as a protector and confidant. Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira and Daniel Wu round out an overqualified supporting cast.
There isn’t one particular element that explains why Reminiscence doesn’t work, but it doesn’t gel like it needs to. There is no Achilles’ heel, but the film fails without being a failure. Kudos to every element of the film trying its level best, but it all ends up as a dud.