Most of the science-fiction films we see today are significantly influenced by classics of the genre. Ridley Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the Wachowski sisters’ The Matrix are some of the more commonly discussed inspirations. Director Lisa Joy, co-creator of the TV series Westworld, is no exception to the rule. Her recent film Reminiscence is a sci-fi neo-noir thriller, with the same moodiness and cyberpunk stylization of Blade Runner. Similar to Blade Runner, Joy has created an eerie future where the world is deteriorating, and the rich have left it behind. The world-building Joy brings to the table makes for some cool visuals, including high speed rails skimming over the water, neon-lit nightclubs, and a fight sequence in a sunken ballroom. However, pretty images alone cannot make a great film.
Detective Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) makes a living off selling his clients the ability to access old memories via a machine where you submerge yourself in a tank of water. Business never dries up because, as Nick says in one of his several voice over narrations, “nothing is more addicting than the past.” Nick is a victim of this reality himself. He uses his machine to frequently revisit memories containing a former client, Mae. Rebecca Ferguson plays our femme fatale, stepping onto the scene in a chic red dress looking for a pair of missing earrings – Ferguson is cold and guarded, but when she sings her melodies are warm and inviting. Nick is obsessed with Mae, and that is why when she suddenly disappears, he stops at nothing to find her. “People don’t just vanish!” Detective Bannister’s investigation takes him from rooftop chases to the docks of an impoverished New Orleans. He bumps heads with a drug lord and a disfigured ex-cop. It may cost him his life, but Nick has been consumed by the mystery and needs to find an answer.
Hugh Jackman has always been a reliable leading man. He’s been Wolverine and P.T. Barnum, but his vulnerable performance here reminds me of his role in Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners. Both characters are addicted to the search of a missing person and there are no lengths they won’t go to find them. Jackman also is more of an anti-hero in both films. While Jackman’s descent into obsession is compelling, he is held back by a sentimental script. Lisa Joy, who wrote as well as directed Reminiscence, does not shy from penciling in little phrases fondly looking at the past; the film is about memories after all. However, the sanguine tone of the writing does not match up with the film’s dark and shadowy imagery. Nor does the dialogue flow naturally – characters speak to each other melodramatically as if they were performing themselves.
Reminiscence is a decently entertaining sci-fi flick. The cinematography has an interesting cyberpunk aesthetic, and the futuristic concepts make for a promising premise. However, Joy is unable to capitalize on these qualities. The thematical and tonal incoherence of the script holds the film back, and not even Hugh Jackman can save this project from its own lackluster writing. I fear Reminiscence will be a film forgotten in time like tears in rain.