In a future submerged Miami, private investigator Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) employs fellow war vet Watts (Thandiwe Newton, HBO's 'Westworld') to help the hopeless relive their most cherished memories submerged in a tank and hooked up to electrodes which both project what his clients are experiencing and allow him to record it to glass discs. They are frequently employed by D.A. Avery Castillo (Natalie Martinez), who is currently trying to take down corrupt developer Walter Sylvan (Brett Cullen), for the tank’s original interrogation purposes (“Minority Report” in reverse). The technology has hazards, like ‘burning,’ but Nick will throw caution to the winds when sultry chanteuse Mae (Rebecca Ferguson, "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation") shows up at closing time with a trivial request in “Reminiscence.”
Laura's Review: C
Writer/director Lisa Joy (HBO's 'Westworld') was inspired by a mystery left by her grandfather which may have been a far more compelling story to tell than her resultant overly plotted, future noir. In her feature film debut, Joy, who actually has some intriguing ideas about memory, goes overboard in every way, leaning too heavily on her memory replay contrivance, voice over narration and films which have come before like "Blade Runner," "Minority Report," "Waterworld," "Chinatown" and even “Who Shot Jessica Rabbit?”
In a Miami that resembles Venice on a soundstage, Nick lets a former vet revisit his dog on the house, exasperating Watts who notes a shrinking bottom line. So she’s not exactly thrilled when Mae arrives, wishing to go under in order to find the keys she lost earlier that day. The woman, who simply drops her high slit, slinky red dress to climb into the tank, can be seen dropping her keys in a dressing room, but Nick persists, letting the memory continue as the tear-streaked woman takes the stage to sing 'Where or When.'
A clever cut reveals that several months later, Nick is now reliving moments spent with Mae, alarming Watts with his obsession. After a brief but intense love affair, the woman simply vanished and Nick is determined to find her. And find her he does, in the interrogation of a thug in Avery’s office where Mae’s past as the drug addicted moll of New Orleans’ Saint Joe (Daniel Wu, "Warcraft") comes to light. Sylvan’s wife Tamara (Marina de Tavira, "Roma"), who relived a moment with him before the birth of their now adult son Sebastian (Mojean Aria) so often she got ‘burned,’ that memory now on a constant loop, requires a steady stream of impersonators to maintain the illusion, allowing Nick an in for information. It will be no surprise to anyone that Mae’s connected to Sylvan via Joe’s dirty cop Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis, Ferguson's "Doctor Sleep" costar) who’s been tasked with taking out Sylvan’s inconvenient mistress Elsa (Angela Sarafyan, HBO's 'Westworld') and their illegitimate son.
The film is drenched in noir clichés – ceiling fans, window blinds and diffused light abound. Direction is uneven, some scenes working, others wooden, the same actor successful in one struggling with overwrought dialogue in another. The film's best scene, which Joy has taken pains to foreshadow, reveals the true nature of Mae's character by using shared knowledge of Nick’s technology. Nick’s effort to get Mae to confront her past also works as does Joy’s idea of ‘ending a happy story in the middle.’ But there is just too much flotsam and jetsam in this waterlogged effort, drowning the film’s better aspects. The sad irony of “Reminiscence” is that it will soon be forgotten.
Robin's Review: C
Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) is a different kind of private eye. He reveals the past to his clients and one, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), when she appears, changes his life. Then, she disappears and he becomes obsessed to find out her fate no matter the cost of “Reminiscence.”
As I sat through director Lily Joy’s ambitious first feature, I pondered on just what I was watching and eventually figured it out. What we have here is a science-fiction-time-travel private-eye-investigation-procedural-film-noir-love-story. My problem is that some of these elements ARE fascinating, but the main story thread, about Nick and his obsession with Mae, is not.
The sci-fi, time-travel part of “Reminiscence” starts off as a cool concept, kind of like the cyber world created in “A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001),” that plays out like a diorama of people’s memories put on display. The device, though, when over used, which it is, overshadows the story.
It is the love story, though, that falls flat for me. I never once felt any real chemistry between Nick and Mae. Rebecca Ferguson is sultry looking enough, like an un-buxom Jessica Rabbit, in her evening gowns with suitably high slits to reveal her leggy legs. But, Nick’s obsession with her is mainly to give the time-travel sci-fi F/X their due.
Besides the “Roger Rabbit” comparison of babes, there are prominent imitations and homage to “Blade Runner (1982),” with its dystopian and wet future world, and “Chinatown (1974)” and its sinister criminal corporation machinations.
When I come down to it, Reminiscence” is a case of the filmmaker’s ambitions are ahead of her experience. There are at least three storylines in play and a closer examination of each, separately, would have been better than trying to combine them, and other threads, into one story.
I have always loved good science fiction movies as far back as “Metropolis (1927),” and would have rather seen that aspect of “Reminiscence” explored more thoroughly – and lose the love story.
Warner Brothers releases "Reminiscence" in theaters and on HBO Max on 8/20/21.