HUGH Jackman is one of the most successful Australian actors working in Hollywood. He’s best known for his Wolverine role in the X-Men series. Although he has yet to win an Oscar, he has won the Tony (he’s a fantastic singer as shown in “Les Miz”), the Emmy and the Golden Globe.
He remains to be on top, unlike colleague Russell Crowe (who has an Oscar) who’s now relegated to father and villain roles. At 52, he’s younger than Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves who are in their mid-50’s. We last saw him in “Bad Education”, a movie shown on HBO where he gave an engaging portrayal of a corrupt gay school superintendent.
Now, in his new movie, “Reminiscence”, also released on HBO, Hugh once again lends his magnetic screen presence and gives another compelling performance, but we’re afraid the film itself is not up to par with the high level of his work. Set in the not too distant future, climate change has caused sea levels to rise and flooded the streets of Miami whose coastline has sunked.
Extremely hot temperatures during the day turn people to be night creatures who conduct their businesses at night. Hugh is Nick Bannister, a war veteran who owns and operates a business that helps his clients to access and relive their past wonderful memories when the world was still a much happier place to live in.
He is assisted by a friend, Watts (formerly Thandie but now spells her name as Thandiwe Newton), another war veteran who operates the memory machine. The memories of their clients are projected on a stage like a hologram that relives past events so realistically.
One night, as they’re about to close, a new client pops up, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson, Hugh’s co-star in “The Greatest Showman”), who asks them to help her find her missing keys. As the film’s femme fatale, she will change Nick’s life forever.
Mae works as a singer-waitress in a bar and Nick visits her and is impressed when she sings his favorite song, “Where or When” by Rodgers and Hart. He falls for her and she reciprocates but she suddenly vanishes soon after. Nick has become so obsessed with Mae and tries to search for her and the reason for her abrupt disappearance.
In the process, he uncovers a conspiracy that includes murder and kidnapping. A state prosecutor gets Nick to look into the memories of a suspect who works for a drug lord, Saint Joe (Daniel Wu). In the man’s reminiscence, Nick sees Mae as Saint Joe’s paramour who he gets addicted to a narcotic called Baca.
He then confronts Saint Joe whose men nearly drown him to death, but Watts comes to his rescue and kills Saint Joe and his gang of thugs. Nick realizes that Mae has just used him and more surprising revelations follow.
Nick summarizes the film’s theme in the narration-heavy exposition with such seemingly philosophical lines as: “Memories have a voracious appetite. They can consume you. They are beads in the necklace of time. The past can haunt a man, but maybe it’s us who haunt the past.”
Written and directed by Lisa Joy, best known for the long-running futuristic series “West World”, “Reminiscence” is her first full length feature and it’s a big flop so she would probably not to try reminiscing about that. There are many characters and many plot contrivances that get so convoluted and sadly do not seem to be that credible. Or coherent.
We pity Hugh as the movie needlessly runs for two hours and in much of that, he’s just haunted and tormented by memories of Mae. What he’s mostly doing is just trying to get Mae back, when she doesn’t deserve him.
After a while, you realize the movie is not really working and getting to be too cumbersome. It’s obvious the movie has a very big budget. The production design and special effects to show a perpetually flooded Miami are superb and captured perfectly by the gorgeous cinematography.
But the movie just trudges along and there are so many scenes that echo other noir films like “Blade Runner”, “Chinatown”, “Inception”, “Minority Report”. We won’t be surprised if Hugh would later delete from his memory that he ever appeared in “Reminiscence”. After all, we believe that nostalgia is so overrated.
But in all fairness to Hugh, he is quite convincing as the melancholy protagonist filled with unrequited love, loss and regrets. Rebecca Ferguson also fits the bill as the mysterious woman who has her own redeeming qualities.
But it’s really Thandiwe Newton (who plays a Madam in “Westworld”) who stands out as Watts. She’s secretly in love with Hugh and tries to warn him that his quest to find Mae is not worth it as he barely knows her, but he just won’t listen so, suffer!