** SPOILERS **
You're going on a journey...
Remember Chinatown? Remember Casablanca? Remember Wolverine? Remember Westworld? Well, that last one was co-created by Lisa Joy, the writer and director of Reminiscence, so she definitely remembers it. In the stunningly photographed Reminiscence, Joy paints a visually sumptuous post-apocalyptic Miami in the not-too-distant future and plunges Hugh Jackman into a boilerplate detective plot with a couple of intriguing time-tossed twists that don't quite land with a SNIKT. Reminiscence is about memory, and love, and lust, and Hugh Jackman's search for the truth about his lost romance with Rebecca Ferguson, but Reminiscence's wrapping paper ends up being more interesting to look at and think about than the actual gift inside.
Hugh Jackman plays
Wolverine Nick Bannister, a mutant "detective of the mind." His business with his partner Maeve Watts (Thandiwe Newton) allows his clients to pay by the hour to use his Reminiscence machine to relive their favorite memories. This involves stripping down and sliding into a sensory deprivation tank as if you're Logan submitting to the Weapon X program replacing your bones with Adamantium. When you're deep in Reminiscence, your memories are projected into 3D holograms Nick and Watts can watch. Considering how intimate many people's memories are, they sure put a lot of trust into Nick and Watts' discretion. Like Wolverine, Hugh Jackman once again falls for the wrong redhead, Jean Grey Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a slinky nightclub singer who's obviously hiding quite a lot, but the detective doesn't care about that (at first). Nick is hot for Mae and they begin a torrid romance they mostly conduct on rooftops looking over the flooded streets of Miami. Then one day, Mae vanishes and Reminiscence drops its first time-loopy twist that the whole first act of the film was Nick's memories of Mae after spending months in the Reminiscence machine.
Wolverine Nick Bannister, love means never having to let go of your girlfriend you didn't know anything about. Driven by his desire to find out "Who is she when she's not with me?", Nick plunges into the watery underworld of both Miami and New Orleans, meeting skeevy criminals like Saint Joe (Daniel Wu), a dirty ex-cop named Cyrus Booth (Cliff Curtis), and Walter Sylvan (Brett Cullen), the most powerful land baron in Miami. Nick gets into fistfights, nearly drowns, and throws away his partnership with Watts in order to find out who Mae is and how she came to be. The revelations about Mae aren't exactly Earth-shattering (she's an ex-junkie running from bad guys she stole drugs from) and, beautiful as Ferguson is, Mae doesn't seem like the type of dame a private dick should toss his whole life (such as it is) away for, but the heart wants what the heart wants. More interesting than Mae is the sordid conspiracy she was caught up in as a pawn, involving Sylan's mistress Elsa (Angela Sarafyan), their bastard son, and Sylvan's firstborn son who doesn't want anyone to mess with his inheritance of owning all of the dry land that's left in Miami. Reminiscence's final twist that the entire film is merely the memories of Nick Bannister, who is now an old man cared for by Grandma Watts after spending decades in the Reminiscence machine reliving his romance with Mae and investigation into her disappearance, is intended as a Christopher Nolan-esque bombshell but, unfortunately, it goes off with a sputter.
Every character who meets another character in Reminiscence starts reminiscing about things that happened in the past that sound way more interesting than what's going on in the present. Reminiscence's backstory and post-apocalyptic setting are simply far more intriguing than Nick's Adamantium-like hard-on for Mae. Joy sprinkles in tasty dollops about Reminiscence's future universe, where climate change not only sank Miami but sparked a bloody war with climate change deniers. Nick was a Navy seaman who was 'drafted' to border patrol, which involved Bannister using the Reminiscence machine to interrogate enemy soldiers and poor people fleeing the tides. When the war ended, Nick somehow finagled the Reminiscence machine to start his sinking business. The way society and culture evolved because of the war and climate change, like Miami becoming a nocturnal city of boats and canals, aren't just a grim forecasting of our probable future in the real world, but it's a backdrop that begs Joy to delve further into. Compared to the impressive future world Joy envisioned, unfortunately, the problems of Nick Bannister and Mae don't amount to a hill of beans in Reminiscence's evocative, sci-fi noir world.