Movie Review: Reminiscence

As my colleagues and I were going into the cinema last night to watch REMINISCENCE, I commented that Warner Bros. hasn’t done any publicity for the film – at least not here in Hong Kong. That’s usually a sign that they don’t want to throw good money after bad. Now, after watching the film, I can say with a lot of confidence that this seems to be the case here.

REMINISCENCE sees the reteaming of Hugh Jackman (LOGAN; the X-MEN franchise) and Rebecca Ferguson (DOCTOR SLEEP; MIB: INTERNATIONAL; the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise; LIFE; FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS; HERCULES), who last appeared together in THE GREATEST SHOWMAN in 2017. This time around, Jackman plays Nick Bannister, an ex-military guy turned Philip Marlowe-type of private investigator in waterlogged Miami. It’s the near-future and climate change has caused the streets in coastal cities like Miami to become waterways. While the lives of the poor have been devastated by the rise in sea levels and soaring daytime temperatures, the rich have built a new area in the city, high above the waterline where, presumably, it’s much cooler as well.

Bannister’s speciality is hooking clients up to a memory-accessing halo device and setting them in a floatation tank where they can relive their past experiences. The nifty feature with this setup, though, is that while these people are reliving their memories, Bannister and his able assistant, Watts (Thandiwe Newton, SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY; TV’s WESTWORLD), can watch the memories projected onto a holographic platform in their laboratory. While Bannister guides his clients’ journeys with his Rod Serling-channelled voice prompts, Watts records their memories on glass memory sticks for posterity. It’s a popular pastime for the poor who have so little to live for in the present. Unfortunately, they’re not so good about paying their bills and Bannister has to take on freelance work helping out the city district attorney’s office on their cases.

One night, a sultry redhead (Ferguson) walks into the lab asking for Bannister to find out where she’s left her keys. It’s a strange request but Bannister is immediately smitten with the woman, named Mae. After he learns where she left her keys and she leaves, he tracks her down to a dingy bar where she performs as a lounge singer. The two of them begin a relationship but one day she disappears without a word. After she surprisingly turns up in one of the DA’s perp’s memories, Bannister heads to New Orleans where he tangles with a drug dealer named Saint Joe (Daniel Wu, TOMB RAIDER), who tells him that Mae wasn’t who she appeared to be. As Bannister digs deeper, he uncovers a plot that involves one of Miami’s richest men and a bad cop named Cyrus Booth (Cliff Curtis, DOCTOR SLEEP, THE MEG).

Wow, I tried to make that as brief as I could but REMINISCENCE is heavy on setup and light on action. First-time director Lisa Joy, who is best known as the creator and producer of TV’s WESTWORLD, has created a sci-fi film noir that is reminiscent (no pun intended) of Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION. That should come as no surprise, though, as she’s married to Nolan’s brother. Unfortunately, her story has all the subtlety of a grenade and the hackneyed dialogue wavers from eye-rollingly dull to downright laughable. Bannister’s big scene with Saint Joe had my audience in stitches as Wu peppers his lines with Mandarin 101 phrases like “pengyou” (friend) and “guanxi” (connection) while trying to pull off a NOLA accent. I think Joy was trying to go for a Louisiana Creole-kind of English-Chinese dialect but she failed miserably. I can’t imagine non-Chinese speaking audiences will understand what he is saying.

Sadly, that’s not even the worst part of this film. Jackman and Ferguson have zero chemistry together, which is bizarre considering they had plenty in THE GREATEST SHOWMAN. Here, it is nearly impossible for audiences to care if Bannister ever finds Mae. Even worse, yes, there’s worse, Watts, who is by far the film’s most interesting character, is relegated to spinning a few dials on their gizmo and pining for Bannister in secret. I could go on…  Okay, one more. In one scene, Mae tells Bannister that she was living in London until it went underwater. She then moved to New Orleans and then to Miami. With sea levels rising, why on Earth would you move to a city that is already 2 to 6 meters below sea level? And then why move again to another coastal city that is only 2 meters above sea level? Had she never heard of Denver or Calgary?

REMINISCENCE is a complete dumpster fire and, with any luck, Joy will go back to producing TV shows. The film opens around the world starting today (August 19th). I predict now that it will make my list of 10 least favourite films of the year.

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