Why are sci-fi/private detectives are such a common breed? Sure, Blade Runner and its sequel made a nice job of updating Hammett and Chandler to the 21st century but both films flopped hard on release. Their cult status, however, seems to ensure that there’s a steady stream of mob bosses presiding over augmented realities, film noir club nightclub-singers and self-regarding wise-guy voice overs that absolutely never work.
Step forward Lisa Joy, whose first season of Westworld rang some successful changes to the venerable property, but who doesn’t seem to have many of her own ideas about how to mesh past and future, even when her theme is memory. Hugh Jackman plays Nick Bannister, who specialises in using a sensory deprivation tank to help his clients return to favourite memories of the past. Together with gal-pal Emily (Thandiwe Newton), Nick is taken in when an obvious set-up arrives in the form of nightclub singer Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), who wants Nick to help her look for her lost keys. This seems like a simple use for such complex instruments, but Mae is taking Nick for a ride, and soon he’s mixed up with crooked politicians known as Barons, drug kingpins and the usual suspects, against a background of a waterlogged Miami and New Orleans.
Reminiscence has pulled in two million dollars in the US on a $60 million budget, and it’s easy to see why; the cast, the look, the storyline, pretty much all of them misfire. The emphasis on water and drowning is consistent; even the one big action set-piece sees Nick trying to avoid flying bullets while his head is stuck in a fish-tank. The romantic elements works a little better, which Jackman and Ferguson at least looking the part, although those surprised when Newton ended a career of dud performances with her lively work in Westworld will lament that she reverts to type here.
Reminiscence has at least some ideas to play with; as in Last Year in Marienbad, there’s a suggestion that the past has a narcotic attraction, although a separate plot device about an actual narcotic called Baca only clutters the narrative. Sci-fi should be a fun way of exploring new ideas, but unfortunately the over-stuffed version featuring in Lisa Joy’s version is far too derivative of previous models. Even outside of a pandemic that’s slicing the box-office into tiny fractions of anticipated takes, Reminiscence is the kind of joyless project that doesn’t stick in the memory.
Reminiscence is out now in UK cinemas and on HBO Max in the US.