In a world ravaged by climate change, rising sea levels have flooded cities like Miami and scorching hot temperatures have made people nocturnal. In a present as bleak as this, more and more people turn to the past – technology allows them to relive their happiest memories and escape into the bliss of nostalgia. This is the world of Reminiscence, a sci-fi noir starring Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson with a handful of good ideas (and solid performances) that fails to rise to its full potential.
Jackman plays Nick Barrister, a veteran who runs a business for people looking to relive their best days. For some reason, it’s tough making ends meet, even though supposedly everyone wants to look back to the past. Maybe it’s Nick’s big heart, giving free passes to the downtrodden. Or maybe it’s the giant and probably really expensive 3D holographic memory stage. How that could be good for business, since the customers relive the memories in their heads with their eyes closed, I don’t know.
Rebecca Ferguson is Mae, a mysterious woman who walks through the front door one night and changes Nick’s life forever – until she suddenly disappears without a trace. A heartbroken Nick can’t stop thinking about her or the good times they shared. He spends more and more time in the memory tank, clinging to those happy memories, searching for clues.
Like the people in the tanks reliving their glory days, Reminiscence looks to the past, echoing classics like Blade Runner and Chinatown in its story, world, and atmosphere. But unlike the perfect memories that Nick shows his clients, Reminiscence more often resembles a shell of the greats it aspires to be.
So much of it feels more like an outline than a finished piece. There’s enough to intrigue, both in a fairly original near-future setting and the characterization – but not enough to truly resonate. Ferguson’s Mae best exemplifies this – her relationship with Nick is meant to be fleeting, but ends up feeling thin. The two aren’t given enough time to explore their chemistry, so when she disappears, the mystery isn’t as compelling as it ought to be. Both Jackman and Ferguson do their best to elevate the material, but even with their acting chops, there’s only so much they can do.
That being said, the movie does pull off one truly striking and devastating emotional moment between the pair. It’s a sequence that plays around with the memory hopping concept in a gut-wrenchingly creative way. I especially enjoyed the added touch of having another character, an antagonist played by Cliff Curtis, also caught up in an emotional rollercoaster of his own right along with Nick and Mae.
Sadly, too much of the rest of the emotional heft of the film comes to us through narration and exposition in an almost textbook case of ‘show, don’t tell’. The least subtle dialogue and literary references are exactly the ones that someone felt should be repeated a few times, just to be sure you got them. Thandiwe Newton‘s character, who is Nick’s business partner, suffers the most from this, as basically her entire story (she is an alcoholic veteran estranged from her daughter) is simply told to us. There are a couple of decent action beats that liven things up so that you don’t just have long stretches of Nick limping around and moping about Mae. Curtis and Jackman have one particularly solid scrap.
Viewers can easily forgive a few dumb moments, like Nick waltzing into places that by all accounts should have pretty high security – but too much of Reminiscence feels unrealised. It has its moments and you probably won’t regret watching it – but it’s incredibly frustrating to see it has all the ingredients of something truly special, yet never really pulls it off.
Reminiscence is out in cinemas now.