It's only been two months since we've had a generic Liam Neeson “very particular set of skills” action picture. Now comes Memory, hot on the heels of Blacklight. Lots of actors go back to their wheelhouses occasionally. Neeson seems to be living in his. Most of the movies he's made in the last six years have been carbon copies of each other. The plots are similar. The characters are similar. His performances are identical. With Casino Royale's Martin Campbell behind the camera, Memory is a little better directed than some. Otherwise, this is yet another forgettable effort from a star who is capable of much more.
This time, Neeson is Alex Lewis, an assassin-for-hire. His current mission requires him to kill two people. He takes out the man, then discovers that the other target is a 13-year-old girl. Because he has a small semblance of morality somewhere inside, Alex not only refuses to murder her, he also decides to go after the people who hired him to slay a child in the first place. The trail leads to a powerful businesswoman, Davana Sealman (Monica Bellucci), and her effort to cover up a child sex trafficking ring. Guy Pearce co-stars as Vincent Serra, a cop whose team is carefully tracking Alex.
The elephant in the room should be addressed first and foremost. Using the sexual abuse of children for a mindless action movie is queasy, at best. Memory acknowledges how horrible it is, yet never delves into it with any kind of substance. The topic is here primarily to give Alex a bunch of extremely bad people to go after. Getting on the movie's wavelength can be difficult because the girl in question, Beatriz Leon (Mia Sanchez), has several terrible things happen to her over the course of the story. It feels exploitive, especially since she's a one-dimensional character present solely to be victimized.
Aside from being a formulaic Liam-Neeson-kills-bad-people action flick that hits every single beat you expect it to, Memory falters by blowing the one element that might have set it apart. Alex is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. He has to write important information on his arm, he takes pills, and he intermittently finds himself unable to remember what he's done. Dario Scardapane's screenplay, based on a 2003 Belgian thriller called De zaak Alzheimer, isn't consistent with this idea. Alex is sharp as a tack much of the time. His issue really only presents itself when the story needs to manufacture drama. (He's got “Movie Alzheimer's.") During the last act, he abruptly gets far worse, a development that comes out of nowhere.
Campbell stages a few decent action scenes. A bit where Alex kills a man at a gym – while he's on a treadmill, no less – is effectively done, as is one in which he detonates an explosive inside a parking garage. The best thing about Memory is not the action, though. It's Guy Pearce's performance. He's outstanding as the cynical Serra, a cop who is repeatedly frustrated by bureaucratic red tape that prevents him from going in and getting people like Davana. Or Alex, for that matter. Pearce is so good that I kept wishing the movie had been about his character.
But it's not. It's about Liam Neeson plowing through a torrent of bland villains, just as he's done in at least a dozen other pictures. Memory is ironically titled because very little about it is memorable in any way. This is the kind of movie that will pop up on cable, where you'll see a couple minutes of it and ask yourself, “Which one is this?”
out of four
Memory is rated R for violence, some bloody images and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.