“Reminiscence” evokes memories of several other movies – “Blade Runner” and 1940s film noir foremost among them – only pretty much all of them are significantly better than this. Hugh Jackman plays the lovestruck protagonist in a dystopian future, but too many of the points the story earns for ambition get deducted for execution in this jumble of ideas.
Writer and first-time feature director Lisa Joy co-created the HBO series “Westworld,” and some of the same cautionary notes are woven into the narrative. Here, climate change has flooded Miami and forced residents to move about at night to avoid the blistering heat, boating among buildings while dealing with fallout from an unspecified war.
That bleak scenario goes hand in hand with another science-fiction flourish – a device that allows people to recover and vividly relive old memories, offering a comforting glimpse of better times to those experiencing this hellish vision. Presiding over that service is Jackman’s Nick Bannister, assisted by fellow veteran Watts (“Westworld’s” Thandiwe Newton, the movie’s strongest attribute), who has a chance to exhibit her toughness before it’s over.
Of all the memory joints in the world, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson, Jackman’s “The Greatest Showman” co-star), a classic femme fatale, walks into his, turning Nick’s world upside down. Yet when she abruptly disappears, he embarks on a quest to find her, using his technology as an aid in the process, and stumbling down a rabbit hole that explores the seedier side of a world that, as Nick grimly notes in the narration, seems destined to eventually sink beneath the waves.
It is, quite simply, a lot to process, and Joy struggles to maintain a sense of coherence as the plot flits around, sprinkling out clues about corruption and crime and who Mae really is or was.
Ferguson sinks her teeth into the sort of mysterious female associated with classics like “Out of the Past” or “The Maltese Falcon,” and Jackman gamely throws himself into the wounded soul pursuing her; still, there’s ultimately no saving the movie from its unevenness or the clunkier plot points that emerge as Nick’s memory-assisted detective work gradually puts the assorted pieces together.
The odd part is that the premise actually feels ripe with possibilities; indeed, certain aspects of the movie almost play like the pilot for a TV show – one that frankly might possess more commercial appeal – before veering back to the more specific and mundane mystery.
“Time is no longer a one-way stream,” Nick says early on, explaining what the memory tech can offer.
Watching “Reminiscence,” though, will likely make many a little too aware of time, and the better memories that could be made spending it watching, or re-watching, something from that aforementioned menu of options.
“Reminiscence” premieres Aug. 20 in theaters and on HBO Max. It’s rated PG-13, and is being released by Warner Bros., like CNN, a unit of WarnerMedia.