There is a persistent torpor to REMINISCENCE, a film that tries to be many things and fails for the most part. Rife with visuals that evoke a disquieting dreamlike state, the story, an ersatz neo-noir set mostly between sunset and sunrise, drones along with the cinematic equivalent of a mosquito’s interminable buzz on a humid afternoon.
Not to fault writer/director Lisa Joy’s premise. In a (what else) dystopian near future, Miami is slowly sinking under the waves due to global warming, and a post-war society is in turmoil as the rich get richer and the poor get wet. And riotous. In this crumbling, corrupt world where people now sleep through the heat of the day, Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) plies his semi-lucrative trade guiding people through a sensory experience of their favorite memories, the reminiscence of the title., with the tank. Developed by the military as an interrogation tool, it allows the subject to relive their memories, while also projecting holographic images of those memories onto a circular stage, where Nick and his sole employee, hard-drinking fellow Navy veteran, Watts (Thandiwe Newton) observe, but not dispassionately.
Enter the femme fatale in the person of Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), who shows up after closing time in search of her lost keys. Dressed in a red dress inspired by Jessica Rabbit, Nick is instantly smitten, and personally guides her on her virtual search. One thing leads to another, as they do in neo-noirs, and soon Mae has disappeared, leaving a heartbroken Nick determined to find her, a much-chagrined Watts, and a mystery that eventually leads to both a New Orleans drug lord (Daniel Wu) and to one of the high-and-dry rich families with the usual complement of dark and sordid secrets.
As a silent film, with tighter editing, this might have worked. Certainly, an underwater sequence in an ornate theater is a classic of its sort (not to mention a weaponized a piano as a piquant element). Kudos, too, to imagining what a coastal city on its way to being reclaimed by the ocean might look like in all its eerie squalor and splendor.
As it stands, alas, we are subjected to florid soliloquies masquerading as dialogue, and actual soliloquies that attain only a simulacrum of the hard-boiled poetry achieved by the likes of Chandler and Hammett. Bad enough, but it is as though Joy insisted on her cast delivering them with no affect whatsoever. They intone their lines, even when in emotional extremis, with all the deliberate monotony of a metronome set at a very slow speed. Jackman dares to enliven his performance from time to time with the proper facial expressions, but the others, particularly Ferguson, give us faces that are as immobile a victim of an over-Botoxing. As for the plot, it is suitably twisted, but not so surprising as to jolt us out of our own torpor. Adding to the problem are action sequences that appear to have been choreographed with precision, but not to convey any sense of spontaneity.
REMINISCENCE scores high on concept, and aces on art direction, but pulls a goose-egg on execution.