No matter what kind of movie you're in the mood for, Reminiscence probably has you covered. It's science-fiction, romance, film noir, mystery, and action all in one. Then again, in trying to be all those things simultaneously, the picture ends up not being good at any of them. After a strong start, the plot begins going in multiple directions, never settling on any specific tone. At times, I just wanted to yell at the screen, telling the film to pick a lane and stay in it.
The story is set sometime in the future. Miami has become flooded, so sections of the city are partially underwater. Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) and his partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton) run a business in which people come in, lay in a tank wearing a special headset, and re-live important memories from their past. Nick watches on a holograph-like contraption that their remembrances are projected onto. Much of the job is fairly mundane. A guy likes to be reunited with his dead dog, a young woman relives sexual experiences with a much older man, and so on.
Then Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) walks in. The sultry woman wants help remembering where she put her keys. While under the procedure, Nick sees her performing in a nightclub. He's instantly smitten. The two subsequently begin an intense romance. Then Mae inexplicably vanishes. Nick becomes determined to find out what happened, often hooking up to his own equipment to obsessively look for clues. In the process, he comes to learn that Mae had several secrets. His trek puts him into danger – not just of the physical variety but also the danger of becoming consumed by his own memories.
Early scenes of Reminiscence are the best. Writer/director Lisa Joy (HBO's Westworld) nicely sets up the sci-fi premise, getting us excited about the possibilities of Nick's memory machine. Scenes depicting Nick and Mae's relationship have sizzle, thanks to the steamy chemistry between Jackman and Ferguson. Reuniting for the first time after The Last Showman, the stars very effectively slip into the film noir-esque roles of passion-blinded investigator and seductive mystery woman.
The longer the film goes on, though, the more convoluted the story becomes. Elaborate action scenes, including one where Nick is nearly drowned in a fish tank filled with electric eels, are at odds with the more restrained, moody feel established at the start. It doesn't help that a few sequences are downright ludicrous, as when Nick visits a wealthy widow who makes her house staff dress up like her late husband so she can recreate the moment when she told him she was pregnant. A key to finding Mae is for Nick to track down a dirty cop, Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis). No disrespect to Curtis, who is a fine actor, but the character is a tired cliché.
As for Reminiscence's central mystery, it proves underwhelming. We witness Nick go through a lot of stuff, only to find answers that are pretty obvious and not particularly inspired. Perhaps unsure of how to wrap everything up, Joy takes the better part of the film's last half-hour tying all the disparate elements together. The denouement stretches on for so long, and contains so many false endings, that it breeds impatience rather than satisfaction.
During the movie, Nick and Mae talk about happy endings. Nick says all stories are inherently sad because they eventually end. Mae replies that the key may be to tell a happy story but stop in the middle. That's how I feel about Reminiscence. Stop watching in the middle and you won't get resolution, but you'll at least avoid the crushing disappointment of how rapidly the film goes downhill.
out of four
Reminiscence is rated PG-13 for strong violence, drug material throughout, sexual content and some strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.