“Memory” (2022) – “I’m the bad man. Have been for a long time.” – Alex Lewis (Liam Neeson)
Liam Neeson doesn’t always portray bad men in movies, but he’s played violent ones on the big screen for decades. His prominent milestone performance – that most folks, including this critic, reference – is his turn as Bryan Mills, a one-man wrecking crew, in “Taken” (2008) and its sequels.
“I will look for you. I will find you, and I will kill you,” Mills famously says.
“Taken” is the film that launched seemingly three dozen Charles Bronson-like shoot-‘em-up flicks for Neeson. Sure, Liam will occasionally delve into a sensitive, compassionate story, such as “Ordinary Love” (2019) where his character’s wife (Lesley Manville) copes with breast cancer. However, these days, such pictures are the exceptions to the rule, as Mr. Neeson’s association with gritty revenge thrillers seems as assured as Julia Roberts’ marriage to 1990s romcoms.
There’s nothing funny about director Martin Campbell’s “Memory”, and Ms. Roberts is nowhere to be found. Neeson is Alex Lewis, an assassin, and he has kept various coroners and undertakers in business for years.
Do you need someone put on ice? This efficient, stone-cold killer is your guy.
He’s an El Paso native and frequently stops on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border to dispatch his targets, and when we first meet Alex, he disposes of his first victim faster than Takeru Kobayashi can down a hot dog. Yes, that quickly!
His money guy (Lee Boardman) has a new contract, and Alex needs to slay two people connected to a child trafficking ring. But when our lead is asked to travel a bridge too far (i.e., shoot a 13-year-old girl), Alex figuratively runs against traffic, and Mauricio (Boardman) wants to kill our killer.
“Memory” has ugly, seedy undertones, and it also feels like every tired police procedural movie or television show you’ve ever seen. The El Paso Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are embroiled in the case, including turf wars between a hulking, grizzled detective (Ray Stevenson) and a worn-down but committed FBI agent (Guy Pearce).
Pearce and his on-screen team of feds, Linda (Taj Atwal) and Hugo (Harold Torres), are the best ingredients in this otherwise stale celluloid concoction. Vincent (Pearce) – with his haggard haircut and somber tones – suffers from trauma because of film’s opening minutes, and we discover later that he’s dealing with another ordeal from his past. Meanwhile, Linda and Hugo have Vincent’s back and form a triad with a hopeful halo hovering about their heads.
If Alex is the “bad man”, they are the “good guys and gal.” Vincent, Linda, and Hugo attempt to make sense of the sudden violence in The Sun City, and they just need to follow the black clouds hovering over Mr. Lewis.
Speaking of black clouds, Alex’s physical condition is the sole reason for this film’s title, “Memory”, which incidentally is an American remake of a Belgian crime drama, “The Memory of a Killer” (2003).
Alex has Alzheimer’s, which complicates his “9 to 5” when he needs to recall specific marks on the receiving end of his gun. Unfortunately, Campbell and screenwriter Dario Scardapane haphazardly explore this thread. Granted, Alzheimer’s is an unpredictable disease, but the movie sporadically refers to it over the 114 runtime. Alex writes instructions on his left arm so that he won’t forget his assignments (and see also Pearce’s performance in “Memento” (2000)), but his recall issues show themselves for perhaps, ten percent of Alex’s on-screen minutes.
In fact, the film has stretches when I forgot (pun not intended) that our lead suffers from this torturous illness. However, the screenplay offers two critical moments when Alex’s condition becomes noteworthy to the story.
One arises in the 3rd act, but the other is a preposterous find, as Vincent discovers a clue that Alex is nearby, which is the equivalent of stumbling onto a winning Powerball ticket in the warehouse that housed the Ark of the Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981).
Still, on the plus side, the picture attempts to address a severe and equally ugly criminal crisis, and cinematographer David Tattersall captures plenty of gorgeous drone shots of sunny, sparkling El Paso. The city’s chamber of commerce should write Tattersall a check for the splendid publicity, although the repeated overhead, distant captures feel like overkill.
Maybe, cut back on a couple of cityscapes, and feature scenes at a couple of local attractions, like the Franklin Mountains State Park or the El Paso Museum of Art. Indeed, Alex could splatter some baddies against contemporary ceramics or in the Samuel H. Kress Gallery.
Sign me up for those cinematic events.
Well, Neeson didn’t convince this audience of one that Alex suffers from memory loss, but the culpability either falls with the script, Liam’s performance, or some combination of both. However, “Memory” has no shortage of ferocious, threatening scorn, so this is Neeson’s wheelhouse, and one can even harken back to 1984’s “The Bounty” for evidence of his “certain set of skills.”
Nonetheless, it’s not enough, and unfortunately, “Memory” is forgettable.
⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Dario Scardapne based on Jef Geeraerts’ book and Carl Joos’ film
Starring: Liam Neeson, Guy Pearce, Taj Atwal, Harold Torres, and Monica Belucci
Runtime: 114 minutes
Image credits: Open Road Films