I feel genuine sympathy for screenwriters tasked with — or even who task themselves with — providing expositional dialogue in a film with a densely complicated science-fiction premise. While there are some ready-made tactics, such as building the narrative around a neophyte interloper to the fantastical world, it must still feel borderline impossible to render natural-sound conversation that effectively explains the ludicrously spectacular. It’s a daunting task. Even so, the added degree of difficulty doesn’t excuse letting monumentally bad writing see the light of a projector.
Reminiscence, the feature directorial debut of Lisa Joy, is set in a near future where society has broken down and climate change has made Miami look like a tawdry version of Venice. Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), a veteran of a vaguely defined war over resources, makes a living as proprietor of a business that allows people to relive favored memories or, on occasion, simply mine their hidden memories to determine the location of misplaced keys. It’s the latter goal that leads femme fatale named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) to walk into his joint, of all the joints in the all the world. He falls for her, they fall into a passionate romance, she disappears, and he desperately hunts for her.
Joy is the co-creator of HBO’s Westworld, and Reminiscence has some of the same dense layering of tedious storytelling mythos that sunk the formerly promising series. In a manner meant to echo gumshoe flicks of the Hollywood heyday of film noirs, Nick keeps flopping deeper and deeper into the sordid habitats of Mae’s past. That he routinely requires rescue by his coworker and fellow vet, Watts (Thandiwe Newton), doesn’t lead him to second-guess his probing. The progression of the story is numbingly tedious, and it’s almost insulting that there’s no discernible commentary to the environmental disaster the characters exist within. The risen ocean and punishing daytime temperatures are just dressing, a way to announce that the film exists in The Future.
There’s no deftness whatsoever to Reminiscence, exemplified by the constant explanations, explanations of the explanations, and reiterations of the explanations or the explanations. Barely a statement is made without a character repeating it with slightly different language, like a desperate middle schooler padding a thin essay to meet a page requirement. Every last actor is felled by the material, natural charisma evident from other roles made as ghostly and theoretically as mistaken recollections.
I made it a little more than an hour into Reminiscence before giving up.
Previously in The Unwatchables…
— Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, directed by Michael Bay
— Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton
— Due Date, directed by Todd Phillips
— Sucker Punch, directed by Zack Snyder
— Cowboys & Aliens, directed by Jon Favreau
— After Earth, directed by M. Night Shyamalan
— The Beaver, directed by Jodie Foster
— Now You See Me 2, directed by Jon M. Chu
— The Mummy, directed by Alex Kurtzman
— The Counselor, directed by Ridley Scott
— Vice, directed by Adam McKay
— Savages, directed by Oliver Stone
— Welcome to Marwen, directed by Robert Zemeckis
— The Gentlemen, directed by Guy Ritchie