It’s often hard to see the moment where aspirations of seriousness cross the line into pretension. Part of the problem with Rememory, an entertaining film bearing a title so awful it deserves some sort of special recognition in the Portmanteau Hall Of Shame, is that it often misses the enjoyably preposterous pulp of its material in an effort to chase after unearned gravitas. Forsaking opportunities to lean into the ridiculousness of its premise, plot, and climactic twist, it instead tries for intellectual depth without much to back it up, the equivalent of a college sophomore getting stoned and watching Adam Sandler’s Click in order to realize that, like, who we are is just made up of memories, man.
Luckily, what it does have is Peter Dinklage. Anyone who’s seen The Station Agent (or some of the better scenes from Game Of Thrones) knows just how good the actor can be when he’s given space to silently inhabit a character, and once again he demonstrates that gift for communicating everything the audience needs to know with little more than some subtle facial expressions and physical movement. Director Mark Palansky, in a major improvement from his last feature Penelope, does a commendable job letting his camera linger on faces and bodies, allowing his stars to do the heavy lifting. If only the screenplay (co-written by Palansky) trusted its cast to deliver all that, too, rather than continually resorting to overwritten backstory and needless exposition. Heading a troupe of excellent actors bringing their A games to this decidedly B-movie material, Dinklage and his fellow performers are a pleasure to watch selling the hell out of this sci-fi-tinged whodunit.
Dinklage plays Samuel Bloom, a man whom we witness drunk-driving in the film’s opening minutes, resulting in a car accident that kills his burgeoning rock star younger brother. Jumping ahead a number of years, the story finds him quietly living out a remote and solitary life as a model maker, a career that gets put to impressively superficial use during the film. Nonetheless, it’s not long before he’s investigating the death of Gordon Dunn (Martin Donovan), a professor who has invented a machine that allows people to record and play back their own memories. Despite a supposedly natural death, there’s evidence of foul play, and soon Bloom has made off with the memory machine in order to track down the people in Dunn’s life via their recorded histories and suss out the possible guilty party. (He also uses the machine himself, of course, just in time for us to learn there are unwanted side effects.) Like an Agatha Christie novel, there’s a mustache-twirling businessman, a spurned lover, an unstable patient of Dunn’s (Anton Yelchin in the final performance before his tragic death)—all of them with sufficient motive to have done the deed. And it’s satisfying to watch the pieces all slowly drop into place, the comforts of the traditional mystery setup paying off despite virtually every aspect of the plot generating holes like a punch card.
But the movie wants to use its memory conceit to say something profound about grief and identity, how tragedy and joy both shape us in ways we can never fully understand, and that living in the present entails constantly reckoning with the past. The memories themselves unfold like generic clips from a Terrence Malick film, and the faux-philosophical ramblings lining the narrative only achieve value because Dinklage et al. so resolutely embrace them. Some of the finer moments are when Bloom has lengthy conversations with Dunn’s widow (Julia Ormond), the two actors achieving a relaxed and touching chemistry despite lengthy monologues. While every reveal and twist is rank with implausibility, Dinklage lends soul to his haunted wannabe detective, achieving some startling pathos even at the hoariest of “aha!” moments. Only Yelchin seems to be having some fun with his jittery role, contributing a bit of bug-eyed mania to the otherwise funereally somber proceedings. Rememory is a solid murder-mystery potboiler—now, if it could just admit a movie named Rememory should be a bit more self-aware of its silliness.