A mystery-thriller involving reading memories, set in dystopian future, made by one of the creators of Westworld sounds pretty dang great. Throw in cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton and it sounds even better. However, Lisa Joy’s Reminiscence does not deliver on the clever thriller I had hoped for. The movie ultimately ends up beings a cool premise stuck within a dull story.
Set in the near future, global warming has led to a flooded world full of nocturnal living, class division, and reliving past memories with the aid of some fancy technology. Nick Bannister (Jackman) is a former veteran who runs this memory-reading show to help catch criminals, and provide an escape for civilians wanting to relive their past fantasies. He runs this operation with his right-hand woman, Watts (Newton), a sharpshooting veteran. The story sets off when they are visited by the mysterious, Mae (Ferguson), who forms a romance with Bannister then inexplicably disappears. To find Mae and discover her truth, Nick gets caught up in the world of black-market drug dealing and corrupt Barons.
The premise of the movie had a lot of potential. The flooded dystopian future is an interesting, and sadly believable, idea. There were some cool visuals on display, and an intriguing backdrop involving the class division and nocturnal way of life. However, the world-building is pretty limited, and the setting doesn’t get integrated into the plot in a clever way. There are brief allusions to the class divide and past war, but it doesn’t do anything compelling with these aspects. And the land-hoarding Baron’s and drug lords get very generic villain motivations. All the background info gets tacked onto the main storyline in a muddled way that never feels as exciting as it could be.
The whole concept of Reminiscence was pretty neat. And I enjoyed watching characters discuss memory and what it means. But the movie never delves deeper. Instead, it presents a simple, unexciting mystery that’s told in a needlessly complicated way. The non-linear storytelling doesn’t add much, and only exposes how weak the plot is once unravelled. The reveals feel unearned, and the memory-reading concept becomes a crutch for exposition, as opposed to a fascinating tool.
Meanwhile the characters are pretty generic and don’t have many memorable interactions. I liked that the movie was trying to be a love story at its center. But the central romance, which the movie hinges on, is awkwardly rushed so it’s hard to buy into. Mae as the femme-fatale never gets to be as intriguing as promised. And Nick, on his own, is rather bland. I did, however, enjoy his friendship with Watts, which felt more natural. Watts at least gets to talk some sense, kick some ass and provide some nice levity.
Considering the ambitious premise set-up and the talent involved, it’s disappointing how unexciting Reminiscence ended up being. The central story and characters are just not inventive enough to support the interesting concepts introduced.
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