No one escaped this summer unscathed, enough so that the prospects of a fall or winter movie season look exceedingly slimmer (with Disney execs publicly flouting next month’s releases as experimental test runs for the rest of the calendar), but Paramount’s SNAKE EYES: A G.I. JOE ORIGIN STORY and Warner Media’s REMINISCENCE still bit the pavement harder than most.
Director: Lisa Joy
The U.S. government doesn’t want you to watch Kathryn Bigelow’s STRANGE DAYS, an incendiary cyberpunk apotheosis of early 90s political tensions that lays blame entirely on the feet of the police and the private property owners that best utilize their services. When I saw a 35mm print of it at Brain Dead Studios earlier this summer, it felt like I was partaking in a guerrilla seminar. It’s a brilliant film not only out of print, but so firmly out of the cultural consciousness that it’s wide open to steal from without having to field mass claims of plagiarism, and yet not a single hack producer has been able to nail it. The latest in a long line of imposters is Lisa Joy’s REMINISCENCE, which just barely raked in $2 million on its Delta-infested opening weekend. The theft is evident: an insidious mystery condemning our obsessive nostalgia via the sci-fi exporting of human memories onto physical media, a stellar Black actress who should probably be the main character made to inexplicably fawn over the do-nothing protagonist, a lounge singer turned femme fatale, and the exposure of the film’s central conspiracy even triggers a climactic city-wide riot, too. If there’s anything to glean from this spectacular waste of money, it’s that you should pirate STRANGE DAYS.
It almost feels as if a majority of the reported $68 million production budget went into miscasting Hugh Jackman for the sake of a poster credit. It’s not that Jackman is incapable of character acting, far from it, but when left with no character to work with and a director’s pervasive desire to evoke noir tropes, his opted portrayal is that of a wet napkin. Hugh Jackman looks like he’d sooner ask for the manager than dig deep into the techno druggie underbelly for a lead on a missing dame. Joy conflates nearly every broad MSNBC understanding of social upheavals into a half-hearted attempt at recreating post-Katrina politicking for her fictional dystopia, where she arrives at the same overwrought conclusion that a collective of poor people will automatically forge an underworld. It’s the same brain disease that compels you to make an infamous Asian crime lord character keep insisting that Jackman’s testicles are “Bachi-sized.” There are many reasons Lisa Joy’s directorial debut, REMINISCENCE, became the fattest flop of the fraught 2021 summer movie season. For starters, the title is not only a word that’s not fun to say, but it’s a pain in the ass to write. For seconds, the fizzled hype of Westworld isn’t nearly enough fuel to launch a vaguely plotted adult neo-noir starring Wolverine not being Wolverine. For thirds, it opens on a monologue that closes with “The past doesn’t haunt us: if there are ghosts to be found, it’s us who haunt the past.”
What does any of that even mean?
Joy bets the ponies on Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson miraculously creating a Bogart & Bacall lust out of thin air, Ferguson’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE victory lap stumbling as of late with one abysmal DOCTOR SLEEP after another MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL. This thankless blank slate of a long-legged MacGuffin doesn’t offer much of a rebound. Those expecting to at least be taken in by a unique setting beware, REMINISCENCE fails to earn any of the faint praise that’s been tossed its way like table scraps to a mutt. With the flooding waters crushing social barriers and centralizing an entire city’s population into a tighter and tighter arena, REMINISCENCE’s Miami is conspicuously unpopulated, a barren digitized landscape closer resembling the ghostly launch PS4 build of Cyberpunk 2077 than a heaving, wheezing metropolis. Lisa Joy decided to envision a dying city with literally no life. Inches of still water turn streets into swampy canals, but no one’s adjusted their apparel, sloshing about in slacks and high-heels. Global warming has wrought havoc on Earth, but the visuals are coated with a steely cool, nary a drop of sweat from Florida’s already ghastly humidity dripped—Jackman regularly wears a trench coat, for fuck’s sake. There’s no texture, no gristle or fat to chew on, leaving you completely alone with nothing but the convoluted story and zero chemistry relationships. It’s no TOTAL RECALL, and it’s not even Fallout 4: REMINISCENCE, suffering from Westworld’s high-gloss, zero impact storytelling centered on philosophical conclusions considered mind-blowing because enough Karma farmers on Reddit said so. [Kevin Cookman]
SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS
Director: Robert Schwentke
About midway through SNAKE EYES, three giant CGI snakes emerge from an underground cave to perform a mystic purity test on the film’s titular hero. You didn’t misread that: the snakes are, largely, there to assess (through magic, I assume?) whether or not Snake Eyes is pure of heart. Of course, due to a vengeful plight to kill the man who killed his father, he isn’t, so the snakes try and kill him in what amounts to something like 45 seconds of on-screen action before he’s swiftly pulled from the fight. But the sequence is perplexing, a strange divergence from everything that comes before and after. And the snakes, naturally, don’t look good—granted, giant snakes rarely look great, but given how reliant the film is as a whole on stunt work and practical effects, you’d have thought the singular CGI sequence in the film might look a smidge better.
Somehow it’s not even the look of the snakes that’s the most troubling thing about SNAKE EYES, the rare form of Hollywood desperation where you can feel the studio notes guiding the final product at every turn. The fact that the film features giant snakes at all reads like a higher up at Paramount not knowing what a snake eyes dice roll was and thus forcing director Robert Schwentke to include literal snakes in the plot (because audiences are dumb, ya know). When SNAKE EYES loses its tedious by-the-numbers origin story plot and devolves down to a snakeless-action movie, relying on a solid mix of martial arts fight scenes and one genuinely great highway finale involving motorcycles and a car carrier trailer, it’s enjoyable, if fleeting and calculated. It’d be one thing if the rest of the film was consumed by the kind of over-the-top randomness of that singular snake sequence, especially given that the bones of a messy 90s blockbuster script are there. You get to watch a grandmother fight armed guards with a fan, for fuck’s sake. SNAKE EYES is so obsessed with being serious franchise fare and, in turn, is obsessed with righting the wrongs of the past G.I. Joe films, that the results are joyless. Imagine rebuilding your series around Henry Golding, the most charming onscreen presence since George Clooney, and not letting him get off more than a smirk. It’s sickening.
SNAKE EYES might have worked in more self-aware hands. God knows the Lord-and-Miller’ing of Blockbusters is an exhausting (not to mention difficult) trick that only works so often, but a property based on a popular action figure from the ‘70s and ‘80s could probably use a bit of silliness—hell, even Michael Bay figured out a way to make TRANSFORMERS big and dumb. Henry Golding deserves better than this. [CJ Simonson]