blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Reminiscence (2021, Lisa Joy)

I did give Reminiscence a fair shake. I really did.

It’s not my fault it opens with an all-CGI “helicopter” shot introducing the setting—a future, flooded Miami—and a terrible voice-over from star Hugh Jackman. It’s writer and director Joy’s fault. And her producers. And whoever thought doing low-to-middling CGI on a fake helicopter shot was a good idea. And whoever told them no one would remember Dark City, which is the first obvious… um… “homage.” Unless the helicopter shot is a Birdcage nod.

Reminiscence is what happens when you put Unforgettable, Blade Runner 1, Blade Runner 2, Waterworld (Joy didn’t have the courage for the urine filtration, sad to say), the aforementioned Dark City, and Dredd into a mixer and then bake them in a Big Sleep-shaped pan. I’m only including Unforgettable on the list because it’s got the same MacGuffin, but I’m not sure Joy’s familiar with it—though the movie ends up lifting a scene from The Departed trailer, so nothing’s too obvious. A Bugs Bunny cameo would’ve improved Reminiscence a lot. Especially since femme fatale Rebecca Ferguson is based more on Jessica Rabbit than anyone else.

That Departed lift jumps out because all the other prominent references outside Blade Runner 2049 are at least twenty years old. Wait, no… Dredd. But I feel like if you made Reminiscence you assumed no one saw Dredd, because if they had, why would they be watching your movie (outside the eventual and then frequent Jackman beefcake, which at fifty-two is still very impressive, as is his ability to emote in underwater close-ups). From the first few seconds of the film, Reminiscence is a fail. It’s just going to be two annoyingly tedious hours to figure out exactly how it’ll fail. Who it’ll fail. Spoiler: Thandiwe Newton. It completely and utterly fails Thandiwe Newton, particularly when it turns out the Occam’s razor on why Jackman falls for Ferguson instead of long-time best friend Newton (he’s Bogart, she’s Dooley Wilson, wish I was kidding) is because… you guessed it… she’s a Black woman.

There’s a lot of backstory to Reminiscence’s dystopian future, and we get every single bit of it from terrible voice-over narration. Even before the end of the first act, you’ve got to wonder how Jackman—who’s sort of been trying to do everything as a neo-noir (superhero neo-noir, sci-fi neo-noir)—didn’t get someone to try to fix the film. Somewhere in the third act, he does such a good impression of Clint Eastwood saying yes to a movie he really shouldn’t have, and you all of a sudden remember Jackman’s the movie star, and Reminiscence completely fails him.


In the ruins of the old world (Miami and the Gulf of Mexico flooded, Americans banded together to force Mexicans, brown people, and poor people of all colors drown), Jackman is a former interrogator (for the Americans) who uses the technology they developed to go into people’s memories to sell people “reminiscences.” You pay to relive your good memories from before the world went to shit while Jackman and Newton watch it all. Jackman’s a good guy though, he turns his head when there’s nudity. Even when femme fatale Ferguson wants him to look.

After sweeping Jackman off his feet because she can sing and apparently no one’s left who can sing, Ferguson leaves him, and he becomes a memory junkie. But when he and Newton have to go consult on a case for the cops—they need Jackman to talk calmly to the suspect while Newton watches the computer in case it tells her to tell Jackman to stop (the district attorneys and cops in Reminiscence are abject morons because Joy can’t figure out another way to do the Big Sleep nod)—he sees Ferguson in a memory and has a new lead.

He wasn’t actually investigating her before just reliving the memories (there’s even a massive clue to where she might be hiding the movie doesn’t notice because Joy’s a bad writer). But now he’s on the case, and he’s going to meet drug dealer Daniel Wu–Reminiscence forgets for the first act the majority of the population is addicted to some drug you can never, ever kick, and it’s ruining the ruined society—and crooked cop Cliff Curtis. Wu’s terrible, but Curtis is good with horrible writing. Like he’s trying. No one else in Reminiscence tries. Hopefully.

It’d be much, much worse if Jackman and Ferguson are trying. Jackman’s on autopilot. Ferguson’s got what Joy thinks is a great part, kind of an empowered femme fatale, but it’s actually this very weird slut-shaming, aggressively misogynistic, classist take. Also, Ferguson and Jackman have zero chemistry. Probably because of the bad script and bad direction, but neither actor should’ve believed Joy telling them they were Bogart and Bacalling it.

For some of Reminiscence, it seems like Jackman will at least escape unscathed. Joy must have something to say about these genres she’s blending together. When it turns out she doesn’t, and then there’s still another forty minutes in the movie, it’s just a descent into mainstream mediocrity. Jackman doesn’t have to be embarrassed by his performance, just agreeing to be in the project. Though maybe the voice-overs.

Newton’s not great. She’s fine. But not really anything more because her writing is terrible and her part is worse. She’s believable in this lousy production, which makes her definitionally infinitely better than anyone else. Must be Newton’s experience working with Joy on the similarly insipid “Westworld” show.

Technically, Reminiscence is without highlights. Paul Cameron’s photography is bad or worse. Worse on the green screen composite shots. Ramin Djawadi’s music is terrible. Waterworld Miami isn’t great, but not as good as it should be—so either Howard Cummings’s production design just misses it or Joy’s direction screws it up. The fail on the flooded city, which has tropical noir overtones, seems mostly to be Joy’s impatient direction–Reminiscence is such a chore to watch; Joy’s predictable, contrived, impatient, and tedious. So the movie’s rushing to do things slowly. The relatively short and hilariously bad epilogue goes on forever. Even the last fade-out is too long.

So maybe it’s all editor Mark Yoshikawa’s fault. Perhaps he could’ve saved us. Or at least made Reminiscence’s seemingly endlessly bland, unimaginative mediocrity move at a better pace instead. The film’s a bad memory and hopefully one easily forgotten.

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