Reminiscence review: Hugh Jackman stumbles into a silly time-lord mystery
Reminiscence (2021 movie)
"The past can haunt a man. That's what they say," Hugh Jackman's Nick Bannister intones more than once in Reminiscence. So too, alas, can a movie that makes no sense. Writer-director Lisa Joy (Westworld) seems to be aiming for an Inception-style metaphysical mind-bend, with the sci-fi jolt of Minority Report and a bleak splash of Waterworld. But her intentions get lost in some cloudy marine layer in between, sunk by hammy hard-boiled dialogue and a story that leaves logic at the door.
It's the near future, and things have not gone well environmentally; Miami is a lake now, a soggy wasteland engulfed by rising sea levels and governmental corruption. Jackman's Bannister at least has managed to carve out his own income stream: He's the sole proprietor of a machine that can lift memories from people's brains and project them onto a kind of private hologram stage. And for a fee, he and his assistant, Watts (Thandiwe Newton) — both veterans of an ugly but unspecified border war — allow customers to revisit happier times: bodies untouched by injury, tender moments with lovers who've passed on.
It's all quotidian stuff until the day a nightclub singer named Mae (Mission: Impossible — Fallout's Rebecca Ferguson) walks in, asking for a session to retrieve her lost house keys. Never mind that she looks like the living embodiment of Jessica Rabbit, a purring femme fatale so slinky her red satin dress should come with its own googly eyes. She's soon slipping out of that gown anyways, straight into Nick's memory tank and then his heart. A whirlwind romance follows — the kind you know must be true love because it comes in montage form, with lots of sun-dappled hand-holding and splendor in the grass. And then the lady vanishes, leaving a devastated Nick to hunt her down using all the tricks he knows.
Mae, it turns out, is not who she said she was; there's a drug lord in New Orleans (Daniel Wu), a corrupt cop (Cliff Curtis), and a smorgasbord of other shady underworld figures who know her name too well. But Nick, who's supposed to be a decorated soldier, keeps charging into danger like a lovesick teenager to find her, only to be rescued again and again by either Watts or phenomenal luck. Worse, he can't stop philosophizing in the voiceover: It's as if Raymond Chandler got stuck in a Zen-koan generator. ("The past is just a series of moments. A bead on the necklace of time.")
Which feels like more of a shame because the premise is intriguing — who wouldn't want to relitigate their own memories, or at least find out what happens when you do? — the mood is Blade Runner cool, and the actors are working so hard to make the best of dim material. Ferguson tries valiantly to add melancholic layers to her pulp-fiction siren, and Newton embodies the relative voice of reason in most scenes; her default response to Nick is essentially, "Snap out of it." But by the time he's narrating the unraveling of the movie's central mystery exactly while it happens on screen, the whole thing tips overboard, sunk by the weight of its own silliness. Grade: C–
In the not-too-distant future, a private investigator of the mind (played by Hugh Jackman) uses technology to help clients recover lost memories. When one of them goes missing, he begins an obsessive journey through the dark underbelly of Miami to find her.