Just as surely as global climate change is scarring the land and warming the seas, it’s also flooding our movies. The planet’s imperiled future has been within the DNA of disaster movies like “The Day After Tomorrow” for years, of course. But lately, the climate has taken a more leading role in films proliferating as quickly as ice caps are melting. This summer has seen the parched, Australian thriller “The Dry” (a good movie, by the way) and “The Tomorrow War,” a time-traveling war movie that results in an apocalyptic threat unlocked by thawing permafrost.
In Lisa Joy’s “Reminiscence,” which debuts in theaters and on HBO Max on Friday, the primary thing we see is water. The movie is about a mostly submerged Miami within the near future, with canals flowing through high-rises in some sections. In other areas braced by an ocean wall, there are perpetual puddles. to flee the daytime heat, the town has also turned nocturnal. Or, at least, more so.
What wouldn’t it be like living in such a world? It’s reasonable, maybe even responsible to think about it. Joy, who wrote and directed the movie, has sensibly concluded we might probably spend tons of your time remembering better days. In “Reminiscence,” she has fashioned a shadowy, future-set film noir, with all the genre trappings of a hardboiled narrator, a slinky enchantress, Venetian blinds, and, most relevantly, a way of the past’s irrevocable hold over our lives — and our planet’s.
That makes “Reminiscence” both quite terrifyingly ominous to observe and a touch comforting. Who knew that environmental disasters might be so stylish? The seas could also be encroaching, but a minimum of you’ll still get a stiff drink at a seedy nightclub and tersely muse on the past like private eyes of earlier times.
In “Reminiscence,” most are hooked on nostalgia, which makes Nick Bannister’s memory-weaving machine, during which people lie during a shallow tank and are transported to any time from their past, something more sort of a drug den. “Nothing is more addictive than the past,” narrates Bannister (Hugh Jackman). With soothing direction, he guides customers to cherished memories — a tryst with a lost love, playing fetch with a beloved dog — which is illuminated on a round stage draped in translucent strings. (The production design by Howard Cummings is consistently terrific throughout.)
It’s a fallen world, rampant in lawlessness, corruption, and ennui. Bannister may be a veteran of the wars that came when the waters rose. But Jackman, whose range extends from song-and-dance musicals (“The Greatest Showman”) to suburban scandal (“Bad Education”), exudes little of the trauma of anyone who’s been through a war. Jackman may be a more reassuring presence. He doesn’t slide into noir with the weariness of, say, Harrison Ford, or the disillusionment of Bogart. But, but, “Reminiscence” gradually grows more within the direction of a melodrama than its dark premise might suggest.
“Reminiscence” properly starts with an old-fashioned quiet encounter: an alluring lady trying to find her keys. Just after an hour, in walks Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), during a handsome red dress. There’s immediate chemistry between her and Bannister, which his colleague, Watts (a typically excellent Thandiwe Newton) eyes skeptically. She’s a singer at a club during a dark, neon-lit offshore district. Their first night out ends with Bannister taking her home, during a dingy by daylight.
As you would possibly imagine, “Reminiscence” begins to play with what’s real and what’s memory, blurring the lines in between. When Mae disappears, Bannister begins pouring over their time together, checking out clues — a number of which begin cropping up in other cases, including one involving a replacement Orleans drug kingpin (Daniel Wu). To an interesting degree — complete with a mysterious, disfigured person (Cliff Curtis) — Joy’s film is peopled by the dependable sorts of the genre. The story isn’t quite as impactful because of the rising-seas setup.
“Reminiscence” is Joy’s feature-film debut, but because the creator of the HBO series “Westworld,” she has already proven her considerable talent in fashioning vivid, intelligent sci-fi worlds out of up to date anxieties. “Reminiscence” may turn too sentimental and mutter a touch an excessive amount of about “the past.” Like its characters, it’s drunk on what came before, relying too heavily on noir tropes. But its smart, thought-provoking concept isn’t very easy to shake off. the pictures of a half-submerged Miami are too eerily realistic. As Bannister sloshes around in shallows and dives deeper into the depths, “Reminiscence” will leave you soaked with unease.
“Reminiscence,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Movie Association of America for strong violence, drug material throughout, sexual content, and a few strong languages. Running time: 116 minutes. Two and a half stars out of 4.