Writer/director Lisa Joy (HBO’s “Westworld” co-creator) uses her sci-fi savvy to fashion “Reminiscence,” a standard detective drama that’s overshadowed by its futuristic setting and sketchy logic. Add underdeveloped characters, clunky hard-boiled dialogue and technological leaps-of-faith and you’ve got a film too glossy to be the gritty gumshoe movie it wants to be.
Hugh Jackman stars as Bannister, a war veteran living in a waterlogged Miami of the not-too-distant future. Global warming has made the ocean overflow and dams have been built to temper the tides. Streets are canals for boat travel and the heat keeps everyone inside during the day. To ease their depression from imminent drowning, people living in Miami go to Bannister to access happy memories- he’s converted a bank into a place of business called Reminiscence.
Placing his client in ‘the tank’-a Plexiglas coffin half-filled with water- and putting an electrode cap atop their head, Bannister uses sophisticated scientific equipment to access and record client memories. Their memories are projected onto a sizable holographic stage near the tank. An expert at using this technology for interrogation purposes during the war, Bannister now does it for profit with the aid of fellow vet/assistant ‘Watts’ (Thandiwe Newton).
A new client enters in classic femme fatale style. Her name is Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) and she needs Bannister’s services to find her misplaced keys. Such an invasive scientific procedure to find keys? Bannister goes along with it. Mae’s steps are retraced as a projected hologram, keys are found, Mae leaves her earrings behind for Bannister to bring back to her- wham, bam, one night stand.
But wait. ‘Watts’ shuts off the equipment- Bannister is actually in the tank reliving his tryst with Mae. We find Bannister and Mae were together for some months before Mae suddenly vanished. Where did she go? Bannister wants to know.
Bannister’s search leads him through Mae’s dark past, encountering drug kingpins, corrupt cops and wealthy land barons- all the sleuth stereotypes you’d expect. Unfortunately, these set ups seem small against the more interesting sci-fi setting. The story suffers when characters can’t compete with their environment.
Another downside to “Reminiscence” is more questions are raised than just Mae’s disappearance. How did Bannister get the money to fund his business? Why are memories projected not in a first-person perspective but as a staged memory where you can see everything around the client, including things happening away from the client’s view in that moment in time?
“Reminiscence’s” cardinal sin, however, is not developing the emotional relationship between Bannister and Mae. While Jackman and Ferguson do their best, they’re both saddled with a lot of trippy philosophical dialogue about the past and memories when they should be having witty banter to build their bond or passionate dialogue so you know something’s sparking. The movie has none of that. Without emotion, Bannister’s overpowering obsession with Mae that starts his search looks stupid when we don’t buy it.
Though I appreciated the stab at a decent detective story, some eccentric characters encountered by Bannister (namely Marina de Tavira’s turn as a delusional wealthy land baroness) and seeing the production design of Miami trying to stay afloat, “Reminiscence” tries to cram too much into two hours. Had the film spent more time exploring Bannister and Mae’s emotional relationship, I would have cared about their plight. “Reminiscence” is a movie that doesn’t practice what it preaches. Memories create emotions. Without an emotional tie to its central characters, “Reminiscence” makes itself forgettable.