“Reminiscence,” the Hugh Jackman-led sci-fi thriller, is made from spare parts and can’t compete with the original models it’s borrowing from.
Jackman and Thandie Newton star as the proprietors of Reminiscence, a virtual reality firm. Jackman’s ex-soldier Nick and Newton’s former sharpshooter Watts allow customers to bask in their nostalgia and relieve happy memories.
The arrival of Mae, played by Rebecca Ferguson, rattles Nick and causes him to dangerously indulge in his own product.
Why such a great cast would indulge in such trite material can be traced to the writer/director: Lisa Joy is a creative force behind HBO’s “Westworld,” which also stars Newton, and is married to Jonathan Nolan, who co-wrote “The Prestige,” Jackman’s best movie.
Otherwise, everyone here is doing capable work in material that has been done far better decades earlier.
If the screenplay were as good as the setting, this would really be something. “Reminiscence” takes place in the near future on “The Sunken Coast,” as Nick and Watt’s two-person REKALL is operated in a Miami that is mostly submerged by water.
It’s established that the have-nots must wade through the water, while the have’s live in elevated spaces. It’s a cool idea but winds up being little more than art direction. There are also logic loopholes with this world: since the city is a giant puddle, doesn’t that make the extensive use of electricity unlikely, if not extremely dangerous?
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The intention was clearly to aim for neo film noir filtered through sci-fi, as Nick narrates and Jackman dishes out terse, groaner dialogue (“Memories are like perfume…better in small doses”). These characters are filled with regrets, are obsessed with their troubled pasts, and can’t count on themselves to do the right thing.
Also, Mae is a nightclub singer (Ferguson ably croons on the soundtrack) and enters with Nick’s narrating, “I’ll never forget the day she walked in.” Yes, we get it, it’s supposed to be a Philip Marlowe-like tale, except it never fully connects.
An attempt at a noir-like tone is depleted by the lite, flavorless score by Ramin Djawadi, whose music sounds more like a temp score for test screenings than something that could have roused audience excitement.
Everything about “Reminiscence” is like that – it’s sexy but not erotic, unsettled but not tortured, violent but not gritty. Considering the “Westworld” connection, this bashfully shies away from nudity and brutality and its one of the tamest PG-13 movies in memory.
The element of danger just isn’t there.
In two different scenes, Jackman has his head underwater for so long, he’s clearly in no danger of ever drowning, which eliminates any suspense.
Jackman and Ferguson previously appeared in “The Greatest Showman” and have a curious problem here: despite their considerable talent and mega-watt presence, they have zero chemistry together.
Ferguson’s character is more a femme fatale cliché than a fully developed character. Jackman and Newton, on the other hand, do share a strong chemistry, but Newton’s role is substandard at best (she’s basically the technician who, when the occasion warrants, can save Nick from trouble).
For an example of true sci-fi film noir, centering around an addiction to virtual reality and the harsh realities of those stuck in that circle, look no further than Kathryn Bigelow’s 1995 masterpiece, “Strange Days.” It features not only a similar premise (though everything in “Reminiscence” is “similar” to something else), but also a complex love story between Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett’s characters that, by comparison, show just how limp wristed and ill-defined the Jackman/Newton scenes are here.
“Reminiscence” is unsteady, unoriginal and offers few rewards, other than watching dreamy movie stars at their dreamiest. It will have no effect whatsoever on its cast: Jackman brushes off duds like this, “Deception” and “Chappie” like sweater lint and is so generously talented (remember, he did a singing tour a few years back!), he’ll appear in a worthier vehicle within a year.
Ferguson, so effective in “Doctor Sleep,” has “Dune” out this year and the “Mission: Impossible” franchise to lean on. Newton has been so good for so long, she basically does whatever she wants (quick, name another actress who has played Condoleezza Rice and has her own “Star Wars” action figure!).
The cast will shrug this off but, unfortunately, that leaves us. Likewise, we deserve better. Joy’s debut making a feature length film has a lot in common with Nolan collaborator Wally Pfister’s own doomed directing debut, “Transcendence” (2014): a great cast and some splendid visuals can only carry a story assembled in a narrative junkyard for so long.