Hollywood has been running shy of genuine film noir for some time now so it makes little sense to give it a waterlogged futuristic setting despite the impressive track record, albeit not in the movies, of writer-director Lisa Joy best known as co-creator of television hit Westworld (2016-2021). Ecologic disaster dominates this future, floods reducing cities to rivers, skyscrapers and buildings existing as islands in a wet landscape. Dystopia is also rampant with the masses close to riot and big business, as you might expect, nonetheless able to exploit the situation.
Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) is a private eye of sorts, but concentrating his practice on infiltrating the mind, operating some kind of giant bathtub immersion which, plus a headset that looks borrowed from a Marvel supervillain, allows him to penetrate secrets. Enter statuesque femme fatale Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) who has – wait for it – lost her keys! Yep, that’s the set-up. Some amazing technological gizmo that can be turned into a key-hunting device.
Of course, that’s not the whole story. To fill out the film noir aspect, Mae is some kind of nightclub singer, rehashing the Rodgers & Hart standard “Where or When,” singing into a 1940s mike. And there’s a voice-over reminiscent of the awful voice-over that besmirched the original release of Blade Runner, with some lines so bad that the director sees fit to run them twice.
Soon Bannister is plunged (pardon the pun) into a mystery that takes in businessman Walter Sylvan (Brett Cullen) and family and there’s other bad guys like Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis) and a shoal of red herrings lying in wait. Instead of Bannister being the alcoholic as is usually the private eye trope, it’s his sidekick Watts (Thandiwe Newton).
Left alone, this might have made a decent mystery, and there is enough intrigue to be going along with, family secrets to expose, but the setting destroys any possibility that the picture might actually take off. The city is in some cases flooded to probably the first ren or twenty storeys of a skyscraper but in other sequences Bannister skips through what look like little more than a few inches of water. There is an absolutely peculiar scene where Bannister escapes his enemy by trapping him in a grand piano and sending him into a watery grave only to change his mind and try to rescue him.
There’s some interesting material about how to capture memory and keep it on permanent rewind but it’s kind of lost in the general flotsam and jetsam and there’s a sweet line about finishing a story at the good part before it turns into a sad ending. But there’s really no justification for the futuristic setting even if Bannister had invented a gizmo that opened up the mind, more of an electronic psychiatrist than a gumshoe.
Hugh Jackman (The Front Runner, 2018) does his best but the risible voice-over, striving too hard for memorable lines, does for him. Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Fallout, 2018) is satisfactory without being electrifying but Thandiwe Newton (Solo: A Star Wars Story, 2018) is wasted.