“Reminiscence” (Rated T)
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Thandiwe Newton, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis
Where to watch: In theaters/ HBO Max
With Election Fever rampant in the country, here’s an election-themed review.
The new film “Reminiscence” is like a politician who incessantly talks about the future, but seems to be hopelessly stuck in the past.
This sci-fi/thriller definitely is future-looking in some aspects of the plot, but is also a very clear nod to “film noir” classics of the 1940s.
Now, there ain’t nothing wrong with that at all. Anything with many actors from that era, especially Humphrey Bogart (“The Big Sleep” is nearly perfect, and “The Maltese Falcon” of 1941 is the standard-bearer for the genre) will be more enjoyable than most of what gets released today.
Unfortunately, “Reminiscence” lacks everything that made those movies special, from the witty and snarky banter and innuendos, to the sinister and sultry mood lighting (most often black-and-white), and a storyline that’s actually compelling, interesting and thrilling.
Instead, it ends up feeling at most times like a nonsensical sci-fi flick from the 1980s – a different long-ago era that is much-less well regarded.
Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), a private investigator of the mind, navigates the darkly alluring world of the past by helping his clients access lost memories. Living on the fringes of the sunken Miami coast, his life is forever changed as he uncovers a violent conspiracy while trying to solve the mystery behind a client who disappeared.
So, immediately, Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” comes to mind. But even while that movie was often indecipherable, it at least made an effort to be something that would give your brain some exercise.
“Reminiscence”, on the other hand, moves along as if it’s just overdosed on whatever folks used to overindulge in back in the ‘40s (or perhaps the ‘80s).
The principal storyline involving Jackman’s Nick and the mysterious Mae (the alluring Rebecca Ferguson, “Doctor Sleep”) is lackluster, and kind of a bore. And with the story told in a non-linear disjointed fashion, we never really fully understand why he’s so obsessed with her.
Thandiwe Newton (yes, that’s the former Thandie Newton of “Beloved” and HBO’s “Westworld” fame – she’s now using her full birth name and spelling) is almost totally wasted. As the film noir genre almost always requires, she plays the expected good(ish) “girl Friday”, whom our reluctant hero Nick really should be lusting after – instead of that shady temptress.
While efforts are made to beef up Newton’s character beyond the tropes, it’s still not enough. But that’s also not surprising, as Jackman’s character is not fully fleshed out either.
Rather, too much effort is expended on playing up the action and sci-fi tech, and all at the expense of the cleverness one would expect as part of a film noir send-up.
One aspect of the sci-fi storyline I wish we could learn more about is this future Miami. All we’re told is that apparently there was a great war, and then climate change caused most of the city to be completely underwater (as environmentalists have been predicting will indeed happen to most of South Florida in the coming decades).
In the film, nearly every resident finally has waterfront property, but not in the good way. Travel is mostly by boats, and Miami is giving Venice, Italy, a good run for the money.
It’s quite fascinating. But we only get fleeting glimpses at all of this. As a result, and like many candidates on election night, I feel robbed!
Take away the “modern” sci-fi flourishes and “Reminiscence” would have been an awful film noir back in the day. And even among the shocking number of wacky flicks in the late 1970s and 1980s that tried to blend future-world storylines with this kind of mystery, it likely would have been among the most forgettable.
I kept watching primarily because I was hoping there’d be some kind of giant payoff. But as the nearly two hours slowly dragged on, nada!
“Reminiscence” has been losing the popular vote by a wide margin too. After opening on August 20, the film has not performed well, coming in ninth in the United States behind movies that had already been in theaters for a number of weeks.
And this past weekend was even worse, slipping to 11th place, far eclipsed by the first weekend release of the new “Candyman” remake, which raked in seven times more at the box-office. (“Candyman opens in much wider release here today. Look for my review next week.)
Unlike most politicians, let’s finish what we started with more election references: While it’s hard to say definitively “vote no” to “Reminiscence”, it’s even more challenging to wholeheartedly endorse it. Perhaps, as it seems to have blown some opportunities all on its own, let’s just say this one calls for a “spoiled ballot”.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email email@example.com and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.