In the future, Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) operates a business that allows people the ability to relive their memories in vivid detail. When Nick falls for a mysterious client (Rebecca Ferguson) who then disappears, Nick searches for her obsessively and begins to uncover the truth about the woman he loved...
Noir as a genre requires certain attributes in order for it to be classified as such.
You've got to have a convoluted mystery that links into the setting of the narrative and has a reason for its intricate nature, e.g 'Chinatown' and the water wars of Los Angeles in the '30s. The hero is almost always cynical, or at least intelligent enough but is being led by their baser urges towards certain doom, e.g. 'Double Indemnity' and Fred MacMurray, or 'Body Heat' and William Hurt. It's also got to have something to say about the world in which we live, or in this case of sci-fi noir, the world to come. 'Blade Runner', 'Outland', and 'Strange Days' in particular come to mind when approaching 'Reminiscence'.
It's a movie about memories, nostalgia, there's a mystery involving a beautiful woman and a man who is taken in by her, obsessed by her disappearance, and broken by what he finds. Yet, 'Reminiscence' so blithely utilises the casing of noir without going any deeper into it. Hugh Jackman's grizzled war veteran feels bloodless, and while he projects an air of desperation, it doesn't feel truthful. Likewise, Rebecca Ferguson is a cipher of a character, but when it's all pieced together, it's unconvincing. Even Thandiwe Newton, who plays hard-edged characters with ease, feels neutered either by the PG-13 rating on 'Reminiscence' or poor writing. Either way, she's being let down like everyone else.
As you watch 'Reminiscence', it's easy to draw comparisons with other noirs, or even further on, tech-thrillers. 'Inception', for example, had people entering other people's minds through their dreams. Lisa Joy, the writer-director at work here, is Christopher Nolan's sister-in-law. Yet, where 'Inception' had big blockbuster action setpieces, 'Reminiscence' has to contend with clunky dialogue - "You even starch your sentences" is one such clanger - and all-too-familiar plotting. Like its noir trappings, it interacts with nostalgia constantly, but never comments on it or does anything about it. Rebecca Ferguson's character is a Jessica Rabbit-esque lounge singer, yet nobody questions why there's a sudden resurgence in this kind of styling. Sure, it's set in Miami so art deco is everywhere, but why are people driving presumably ancient cars if it's set in the future? Even if you just and try to go with 'Reminiscence' and ignore all this, the story itself doesn't hold up.
Much of the issues with 'Westworld' - Lisa Joy's most recognisable work, prior to this - was in how it needlessly convoluted what was ultimately a straightforward story about technology gone awry. In 'Reminiscence', it throws on twists, turns, red herrings, before it winds its way to an unconvincing ending that just negates what's come before it. Not only that, but why have it set in such a literal environment like art-deco Miami that's about to be submerged because of rich people's greed and then just... forget about it entirely?
With a cast this strong, a decent production budget, and a studio that built its name on noirs like 'The Maltese Falcon', 'White Heat', and the aforementioned 'Blade Runner', you can see how 'Reminiscence' had everything going for it. More than that, glossy and original sci-fi movies that dare to have a brain are a rare and precious commodity. Sadly, 'Reminiscence' isn't nearly as promising as one would hope, and is too bland to be anything other than a foggy memory in time.