‘Reminiscence’ movie review: An overtly cerebral try-hard that ends up being forgetful

Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson star in this ‘The Fountain’-esque film that strives to be avant garde but fails hit the sweet spots of intrigue

When a film takes place in Florida, you know things will take a bizarre turn. Reminiscence does not only take place in Miami; it takes place in dystopian, heatwave-locked Miami. Do you see where this is going?

Reminiscence follows a veteran Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) and his partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton) using sensory-deprivation tanks equipped with Memento-like tech to help people relive their memories. So far, this does sound interesting – but that may be where it stops for some.

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When Nick and Watts are approached by a mysterious woman Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) who needs help locating a misplaced set of keys – cue the weird red flag – Nick is entranced by her and they become embroiled in an affair so heated that it would probably contribute to the already-terrible global warming situation. However, it is revealed that everything that happened till are actually Nick using the memory tech to relive his meeting and falling for Mae, and that Mae disappeared without a trace.

When Nick and Watts are asked to retrieve the memories of a comatose patient who may have information on a drug cartel led by Saint Joe (Daniel Wu), Nick finds out Mae may have been involved with some shady business which could explain her disappearance.

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Naturally, Nick relentlessly puts himself in serious situations to find Mae while a persistent Watts warns him against it. But no, he would much rather get himself thrown around a rooftop by the burly Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis) who is Saint Joe’s henchman. At this point, you may get the giggles as I did during my second watch of the film.

A cast, unjustified

You cannot help but wonder if Jackman had major deja vu while filming Reminiscence given the concept overlaps with those of The Fountain; an obsessive man working to reunite with his long-lost love using questionable science. The actor is great at bringing out the dangerous neuroticism in his characters such as Wolverine in some instances, Keller Dover in Prisoners (2013), and Robert Angier in The Prestige (2006).

While Jackman brings both desperation and brute to the complex Nick, Ferguson channels her inner-femme fatale with her usual A-game – but audiences will fail to connect with Mae even as they learn more of her story. The greatest pity was Watts who was reduced to the simple assignment of the antagonistic assistant-slash-Nick’s conscience – an unfortunate waste of Newton’s talent. Usually, a writer-director makes the most of their wealth of cast, but Lisa Joy’s execution was not as savvy as it should have been.

The production design is pretty remarkable though; the team led by Howard Cummings built a world on the brink of utter collapse which denotes the tremulous state of affairs in which Nick is placed.

The film’s art direction by Matthew Gatlin and Scott Plauche also conveys the various tones of the story; the high saturation makes every element on the screen appear more vivid and alive given the ongoing heatwaves, offering a sense of urgency, while the scenes of cooler hues push a more clinical overtone. This is a smart move for a complex story of various genres, serving as visual cues for audiences. I was pleased that this film did not have overdoses of visual effects, which would have disrupted the riveting sets created.

Our verdict?

I could not help but wonder if all of Florida’s hallucogenic bath salts were in the drinking water, because I wondered at some points why this film was even made. I believe the plot of Reminiscence may frustrate a lot of people, as it tries to interweave noir with science-fiction but the result is not exactly brimming with intrigue and there were a few plot holes.

Some audiences, though, may have an idea of what Joy had in mind for the Reminiscence’s vision: a commentary on the future in terms of human relationships, of our world, of how we interact with technologies, and of how we adapt to new challenges. Reminiscence may be a fun watch on the first round but the second watch, for me, was a little disheartening and the film comes across as half-baked. It is as though the film got distracted by its own poetry and wound up – for lack of a better phrase – losing the plot. Perhaps the story would have been suited for a miniseries where the pace would have been more satisfying and storylines would have held more interest.

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