Lisa Joy, co-creator of the critically acclaimed sci-fi television series Westworld, debuts her first feature film Reminiscence. Keeping to her roots of sci-fi neo-noir themes, we follow our protagonist Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) in the near future dwelling in the now flooded and nocturnal city of Miami due to climate change effectively rising sea and temperature levels. The miserable conditions of life have now turned people to a business that allows them to relive lost memories, using a device known as reminiscence. Nick and his business partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton), a veteran who served alongside our protagonist in a past war, now make a living by taking in clients who yearn to relive their cherished memories.
With a bulk of the exposition being fed to the audience by an overabundance of narration, we meet Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a client with whom Nick is instantly infatuated. Nick’s life will shift when Mae suddenly disappears and he now has to rely on the memories of others to solve this mystery. Although the concept of this film is particularly intriguing and even thought-provoking at times, we’re given an overly flawed and half-baked disappointment that feels almost like a waste of time. We start this film with a beautifully shot overview of the setting crafted by cinematographer Paul Cameron, but instead of letting this scene breathe, loads of exposition are dumped onto the audience through the form of narration from Hugh Jackman’s character.
At this point, one of Reminiscences’ major flaws becomes apparent, lazy writing. Narration, a much too common solution writers use to provide loads of important information instead of figuring out a creative way to work it into the story. And with Reminiscence, the narration is shoehorned into scenes left and right, completely ignoring the term, “show, don’t tell”. Even with meticulously picked cast members, the writing somehow drains the color from each character, offering nothing in return and forcing us to accept dull dynamics between characters.
Despite the flat character writing, Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson deliver piquant moments in their own fashion, displaying the range the two performers are capable of. And this is one of the areas that thrives throughout the entirety of the nearly 2-hour film, a cast with the ability to sell some of the scenes they’re placed in, no matter how lackluster the writing may be. In addition to the powerful acting, we’re given a blend of strong cinematography in a CGI environment feeling palpable and neatly composed for which is form-fitting to this world. These minor positives shine through the dark tunnel that is Reminiscence and is able to properly captivate audiences for even a short amount of time.
However, most of the flaws outweigh the positives since the film takes the time to build this conceptually compelling world, while also simultaneously almost disregarding the world and feeling absolutely irrelevant to the main driving force of the film. The world of Reminiscence is fascinating enough for its own standalone film yet we’re forced to follow a narrative centered around a plot device accompanied by a story that inconsistently sticks to a genre as if desperately attempting to pull an aspect from much better sci-fi films such as Katheryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, or Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner.
With a concept brewing with potential, Joy’s screenplay boils down to an underwhelming mess, writing in irrelevant subplots almost seemingly attempting to distract you from this low-grade mystery story. And given its uninspired writing, even the performances can’t save this film at times as Jackman and Ferguson engage in one of the most unconvincing romance arcs I have seen in recent years. With pacing so haste, characters are barely fleshed out, leaving scenes feeling meaningless when originally meant to convey emotional bravado.
The biggest defeat this film faces is the wasted cast, creating stultifying and soulless characters masquerading behind the countless subplots and perpetual narration. The inorganic conversations between each character pull you out of the film, forcing you to question the waves of disingenuous dialogue permeating throughout. Reminiscence becomes a pastiche, pulling familiar characteristics from the many masterful sci-fi films existing in order to appear poetic and meaningful rather than the sluggish film it actually is.
With such a brilliant cast lineup, fascinating concepts, and a blank canvas of promising creativity is effectively ruined by the sloppy craftsmanship of the writers. Even with convincing CGI, quality cinematography, and a wide range of talent, it’s difficult to forgive the film’s preventable flaws. Coupled with an underdeveloped story arc that felt contrived, Lisa Joy’s directorial debut leaves you lukewarm, starving for a more gravitating insight of the world built for the film, which was quickly disregarded and never expanded upon. At the end of the day, Reminiscence can be broken down and defined as a forgettable and subpar entry to the sci-fi genre.