It’s “The Maltese Falcon” meets “Inception” somewhere in the “Vanilla Sky” on the way to “Chinatown” in the inventive and ambitious but wildly convoluted and ultimately disappointing sci-fi noir “Reminiscence,” which careens this way and that, and this way and that, before running off the rails.
The talented writer-director Lisa Joy is a prime creative force behind HBO’s “Westworld” and she clearly knows this territory, and there are moments of breathtaking beauty and fascinating weirdness in Joy’s feature directorial debut, but the screenplay veers down so many different pathways and never quite comes together, all the way to a coda that should pack an emotional punch but feels tacked-on and underwhelming.
Jackman’s Nick Bannister provides the gravel-voiced narration for a story set in near-future Miami (and later New Orleans,) some years after an unspecified global war left the citizenry literally knee deep in water, as most of the streets are now canals and it’s also so unbearably hot that virtually everyone sleeps all day and nothing ever happens until after sunset. (Only the wealthiest land barons live on an isolated, dry patch of real estate in the city.)
While serving in the military, Nick pioneered an interrogation technique by which he would attach a device to the subject’s cranium, immerse them in some sort of water-based solution and turn up the dials on a device that would allow Nick to access their memories. (For such a high-tech contraption, it kinda looks like something Phil Dunphy from “Modern Family” might have invented.) These days, Nick and his partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton), a former sharpshooter who served with Nick and has a serious drinking problem, have turned the device into a thriving business for miserable Miamians who make regular visits so they can access their favorite memories, as the machine makes them feel as if they’re inside the moment for the very first time. Pretty neat trick.
One night after closing, a ravishing redhead named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson, who co-starred with Jackman in “The Greatest Showman”) comes knocking and says she lost her keys and is hoping for a quick session so she can figure out where she left them. “Call a locksmith,” says Watts, who sizes up this dame and sees her for the femme fatale she surely is — but from the moment Nick sets eyes on Mae, he’s a goner. Suddenly our gruff and damaged loner is making his own memories, falling in love with this mysterious nightclub crooner who all too conveniently walked into his life, almost as if she had an agenda of her own.
The special effects in “Reminiscence” are pretty spectacular, whether we’re swooping over the waterlogged city or watching Nick’s clients enter their memories via a circular staging area. (Nick and Watts can actually see what their customers are experiencing.) Things remain interesting when Nick is summoned by the D.A. to use his machine to access the memories of possible suspects. (The authorities have to get a court order for that.) But then the coincidences start piling up, and we’re plunged into convoluted subplots involving a land baron and his apparently insane wife and his sniveling son, AND the land baron’s mistress, with whom he also has a son, and there’s this crime kingpin who peddles a highly addictive new drug, and a nasty enforcer who was nearly burned to death for skimming from his boss and is now on a mission to kill Nick, for reasons far too complicated to explain. Whew!
By this point, Mae has disappeared, and our poor sap Nick is obsessed with finding out what happened to her, even as Watts keeps telling him to let it go, because Mae was nothing but trouble and most likely a scam artist and come on Nick, can’t you see Watts is obviously in love with you? She’s way cooler than that sketchy Mae anyway. Every time “Reminiscence” brings in a new character or introduces another wrinkle, the plot becomes that much more tangled, to the point where we’re ready for Nick to just shut down that damn machine and live in the moment. Even when it’s blazing hot and the taxis are now water taxis, there’s a lot going on in dystopian Miami.