PLOT A memory detective meets a mystery woman who leads him into a dark conspiracy.
THE CAST Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton
RATED PG-13 (strong violence and adult themes)
WHERE In theaters and streaming on HBO Max
BOTTOM LINE Forget it, Jake.
"You’re going on a journey — a journey through memory," Nick Bannister intones to his drowsy customers in "Reminiscence," a noirish thriller set in the future. "The destination? A place and time you’ve been before."
These lines might ring a bell if you remember Rod Serling’s introductions to "The Twilight Zone." In fact, just about everything in "Reminiscence" will give you deja vu: The detective who falls for a shadowy woman ("Out of the Past"), a dark conspiracy involving civic power brokers ("Chinatown"), a high-tech invention that records the mind ("Brainstorm," "Strange Days"), a stylized mix of classic noir and futuristic thriller ("Blade Runner"). These are all great movies, and "Reminiscence" would probably like to be seen as paying homage; more often, it seems to be banking that audiences have short memories.
Hugh Jackman brings a wounded masculinity to Nick, a veteran of the vaguely described "wars" that somehow accelerated both income inequality and climate change. His home base of Miami is now sinking like Venice: People travel by gondola through flooded streets. (It’s a vivid backdrop, though seemingly unrelated to the story.) Nick works as a memory merchant: for a price, he’ll drug you, put sensors on your head, immerse you in a bath (very "Altered States") and let you relive your favorite moments, whether a passionate tryst or just a game of fetch with the dog. The memories appear in Nick’s lab as cinematic holographs, though their "camera" seems to change viewpoints depending on what the plot requires at the moment.
Then, she walked in. She is Mae, a torch singer at a sinister lounge called the Coconut Club (very "Blue Velvet"). Played by a sensuous Rebecca Ferguson, Mae is smart, sexy and wounded — catnip to a guy like Nick. His longtime partner, Watts (an appealing Thandiwe Newton), warns him something’s not right, but by then Mae has broken into his safe, stolen a trove of memory files and vanished.
I had to find her," Nick says in one of the film’s more redundant voice-over lines. As he searches, he encounters murderous drug dealers (Daniel Wu as Saint Joe), wealthy families hiding in their mansions and a dirty cop named Boothe (an excellent Cliff Curtis) who wants to find Mae as much as anyone. With each step, Bannister’s rosy memory of the woman he loves becomes poisoned by disturbing revelations.
"Reminiscence" makes for a simultaneously impressive and derivate debut from writer-director-producer Lisa Joy (TV’s "Westworld"). Joy deserves credit for sheer ambition: Her screenplay tries to probe interesting philosophical questions and her visuals are stylishly grandiose. Much of what’s on screen, though, feels borrowed and familiar. You can’t help feeling that you’ve seen this movie before.