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Peter Dinklage Deserves Better Than REMEMORY (Sundance Review)

Peter Dinklage Deserves Better Than REMEMORY (Sundance Review)

Rememory is devious. It’s shot well and features stirring performances from Peter Dinklage and Julia Ormond, but it doesn’t have a thought in its sci-fi head or genuine bone in its emotional body.

The unclever pun title should have been a warning sign that this would be a rip-off of other, far better films–a Lifetime Movie version of Memento that begs you not to sweat the logic too much.

Dinklage plays Sam Bloom, a model-maker still grieving long after causing the drunken car crash that killed his brother Dash (Matt Ellis). He attends a lecture by Gordon Dunn (Martin Donovan), who’s on the verge of releasing a machine that captures memories so that you can watch them unclouded by the faulty theater of your mind. After Dunn dies under questionable circumstances, Bloom decides that he might as well help solve the case while searching for the memory machine prototype he thinks can bring him closure.

He crosses paths with Dunn’s widow, Carolyn (Ormond), a corporate suit named Lawton (Henry Ian Cusick), and two experimental subjects who haven’t weathered the machine’s grip very well. Todd (Anton Yelchin) is erratic and violent, while Wendy (Orphan Black‘s Evelyne Brochu) is desperate to get the recorded memories back from Dunn’s company.

The opening car crash–delivered in the standard, shocking side-slam we’ve seen a hundred times since 1998–is perfectly illustrative of the film’s lack of creativity. It also presents a baffling plot problem because Sam’s driving goal is to steal the memory device (which is lazily and unrealistically called “The Machine”) to learn his brother’s last words, but we clearly hear what those last words are in the opening sequence. It makes no sense. That refusal to put us on equal footing, to see the mystery through Sam’s eyes, hobbles our perspective from the beginning, particularly because of the nature of the words. 

The experience is also hobbled because the only connection we see between the two is a drunken night of artificial, inconsequential dialogue before the trauma. 

That’s really only the beginning. Fundamental problems abound, including dialogue that is regularly embarrassing. Stilted and dull stories that are meant to be powerful are haunted by cliches and cardboard. One of the most cringe-worthy moments comes when Sam visits Carolyn after her husband’s funeral, and, after being told she’s not in the mood for strangers and platitudes, he (a stranger) tells her that “time heals all wounds.” Instead of being irritated beyond belief by the most platitudinous platitude of all time, she giggles and lets him in, where he proceeds to tell her a too-long story about meeting her husband that even Dinklage can barely make work.

The script, written by director Mark Palansky and co-writer Mike Vukadinovich, is the screenplay version of the friend who Likes the Facebook post where you tell everyone you have cancer. It’s all self-help bromides masquerading as deepthought about the human condition. Like a party-weary philosophy major at 3am, all the main characters ruminate on The Machine with some form of, “But, like, what if the machine isn’t good?” without bothering to wonder much beyond that.

For Todd–a character Yelchin plays without being allowed to breathe–The Machine is completely evil. It’s a force thrust upon him by a Steve Jobs wannabe who hasn’t realized that it turns your brain to scrambled egg. It’s ruined his life by revealing a suppressed, savage memory that should have stayed buried. For Wendy, The Machine has captured some prized mental moments, but she’s frustrated that Dunn is using her recorded life as intellectual property in ads for the new tech. Their reactions are also motivations for killing Dunn, which is normal for any murder mystery, but it’s also laudable that the manifest problems of this sci-fi miracle are embodied by people genuinely affected by them.

The funny part about The Machine, though, is that Palansky and company never really found a cinematic way to present it, so it’s just a futuro-laptop with a single touch wheel control. As the characters question the ethics of digging through your own mind, it appears more like Dunn has boldly invented home movies. The affect is so poor that it’s tough to keep in mind that this is a sci-fi movie.

Rememory also bizarrely defaults to mystery boxing when things should be clear and exposition when they could use a little enticing obscurity. That’s likely because no one double-checked this thing to see if it made sense at all.

Sam steals the only prototype in existence (which Dunn created himself), and while Lawton and the company are desperate to find it, Sam gets to use it at a leisurely pace without any interference from them. There are also no real cops to speak of in the film, despite Dunn’s death being suspicious. Dunn is also shocked to hear that there were problems with the experimental trial, and that the The Machine could be dangerous, but he also built an incredibly dangerous feature right into The Machine itself. By the end of Rememory, there will be a red imprint of your own hand on your forehead.

As you can probably guess, The Machine skews Sam’s mind the more he uses it, but the movie doesn’t take this nearly to an intense enough degree to be interesting. He hallucinates in mild ways, and has one tense freak out while driving, but even then, like most elements in the movie, it doesn’t create a genuine obstacle for our mild-mannered model-maker to overcome. He copes, then moves on to the next labored conversation that reveals the next standard clue in the whodunnit.

Generic and cheesy, it’s a wonder that this troupe of fantastic acting talents didn’t go on strike until the script made sense and gave them better lines. It’s maudlin and confused–ultimately hampered by the poisonous pairing of cliches and self-importance.

1.5 out of 5 forgotten burritos

1-and-a-half-burritos

Images: First Point Entertainment

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