When trying to think of a way to best describe “Reminiscence,” the new sci-fi thriller from Warner Brothers, I think Yogi Berra said it best: “It’s deja vu all over again.”
There’s a common theory in writing that there are really only seven original types of stories, and every book, movie, TV show, play or any other fictional narrative from the past few thousand years is just some variation of one of those stories. It all lies in the specific details that make them seem unique.
But all too often in Hollywood, a movie will be released that on the surface looks to be a sure hit that inevitably makes little more than a splash because it doesn’t offer anything new or different from other better movies we’ve seen before.
This is the case with “Reminiscence,” which tries to be a genre mashing of a dystopian sci-fi thriller and the mystery noir films of the 1940s, but ends up making me want to watch the other, better movies that this one is taking so much inspiration from. While it’s by no means an awful film, it feels more disappointing because there is such mediocre effort on display.
In the near future where climate change has led to rising sea levels and temperatures, Nick Bannister (played by Hugh Jackman) is a private investigator of the mind who works with his assistant Emily “Watts” Sanders (Thandiwe Newton) in contract work for the Miami DA's Office. In his work, Nick navigates the darkly alluring world of the past by helping his clients access lost memories through a machine called the reminiscence. One day, his life is forever changed when he takes on a new client, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), and a simple matter of lost and found becomes a dangerous obsession.
After Mae suddenly disappears one day, Bannister must retrace the past through his memories and the people Mae knew to find the truth about her disappearance. But along the way, he uncovers a violent conspiracy that could change his future and all Miami forever.
Although the film doesn’t have much new or interesting going for it in the plot department, the look and feel of the production is excellent. That combination of near-future dystopia and nostalgic mid-century modern aesthetic help make the world familiar enough to our nostalgia but strange and unsettling enough to keep us uneasy and on edge.
The biggest factor in trying to sell this movie to audiences is reminding them what else it feels like, and that comes from writer/director Lisa Joy being a writer, producer and director of “Westworld” on HBO with her husband, Jonathan Nolan, the brother of acclaimed director Christopher Nolan. While there is plenty of impressive world-building and a strong atmosphere, it mostly comes across as a subpar attempt at a Christopher Nolan movie.
Thankfully, there is a solid cast to help keep the story moving along and give the audience someone pretty to look at. Jackman, while not giving a great performance, does have enough skills as an actor to not be bad. At the very least, his voice is perfect for the cliched 1940s noir narration that runs throughout the film.
Meanwhile, Newton is perfect as his best friend and partner in the business, staying the realist and person to knock some sense into Jackman when all he wants is to relive his memories and get lost in the machine. On the other side is Ferguson who, like Jackman, is a talented enough actress to sell the supposed complexity of Mae even though she’s a familiar archetype.
Despite the familiar plot points and characters, “Reminiscence” does manage to ask some interesting questions and explore some deep subject matter, which I would expect nothing less from one of the “Westworld” showrunners. There’s a fascinating duality throughout as battles ensue for dominance, such as the noir elements coexisting with the future technology, the rich vs. the poor and even natural Americans vs. immigrants.
But by the end, none of it really sticks out or sticks with the audience. Just as in the film, memories and familiar scenes can only make so much of an impression, but can’t hold up against something real. “Reminiscence” gives us that nostalgic feeling for two hours, and then it’s gone and likely forgotten.