Director: Lisa Joy
Notable Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Daniel Wu, Cliff Curtis, Angela Sarafyan, Natalie Martinez
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a sucker for strange and off-beat projects that attempt to do a lot of things. If they have an A-budget and attempt to slam multiple genres together, then even better. A-budget B-movies are my favorite and I refuse to just write them off even if they miss the mark.
Reminiscence is exactly that kind of movie. Big cash on the screen, strange combinations of genre work, and a film that regularly punts logic to the curb for the sake of embracing an oddity or two. Even with its many, many flaws, I found myself quite enjoying the weird of it all.
The duality of science fiction and film noir is in full bloom here, although it's the latter that dictates the structure and tone and the former that details its strange moments. From the muted visual tones of a half-sunk Miami (which allows it to feature those shadows of noir without the rain or stark contrast) to the oddly monotone voice over narrative from Jackman, the tone is moving in twelve directions all at once. It's perplexing, but also quite fascinating what Lisa Joy is attempting to accomplish here with the dream-like feel and grittiness that represent the spectrum at the core of the film.
Jackman lovingly embraces his rough side for this one, in a more traditional noir manner, and the performances all around range from nuanced and intimate to bonkers. On one side, there are a ton of secondary characters that delight with Newton as the alcoholic and slightly violent partner stealing the show and Ferguson being asked to deliver ALL of the female love interest tropes in one film. On the bonkers side of the things is where the villains reside with some fun cheesy makeup effects and wild accents to boot. Daniel Wu doing his thing here is both baffling and completely intoxicating as he eats scenery whole.
The romance is where the soul of Reminiscence is meant to reside and part of me wonders if the sheer theatricality of it, especially as it comes to undercutting the noir tropes of hero and femme fatale specifically, is supposed to waver in the realm of artifice. Is the dream-like quality of some of its visuals and soft but contrasting tones meant to be replicated in their romance? On the surface, they seemingly lack any real chemistry, but is that the point? Is that a choice to coincide with the sheer lunacy of a film where the romance is played out in memory and not in reality? It's a lot of questions that feel more in line with the rest of the film and it reads as far more fascinating than honest - which is perhaps the point.
The plot itself is a staple mystery at play, where Jackman's nostalgia addicted ex-military dream guide is attempting to find his long-lost love that leads him through the underbelly of Miami's drug trade to face gangs and assassins (don't read this like it's an action film - it's really not outside of two key sequences in a 2+ hour film) but that is easily the least compelling portion of Reminiscence. It's there and it drives the film forward, although even that putters out a time or two, but this is a film where the plot is more focused on G-Science that's meant to ask questions and not answer them.
Reminiscence is not a great film, far from it. Its pacing is meandering at times, the performances are all across the board, and even the tonality is oftentimes at odds with its execution and end goals.
Yet, I'm left wondering as I stew on the film a week later...
...is that exactly what it was trying to accomplish? To delve into the strange dream-like qualities of memory, perception, and artifice? If so, then maybe we should all give Reminiscence another shot. It's no Strange Days, but maybe there's more here than expected.