Film Review: Memory
Director: Martin Campbell
In Theaters 04.29
It was only two or three months ago that Liam Neeson‘s career reached an all-time low with the wretched thriller Blacklight. I mention this because 30 minutes into Neeson’s new film, Memory, I really wanted to just abandon it and rent Blacklight.
In Memory, Neeson plays Alex Lewis, an aging assassin with legendary skills and a reputation for always getting the job done. When he shows up for a job only to discover that his mark is a child, Alex refuses to go through with it. It seems that the people Alex is working for are involved in sex trafficking, and as the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease begin to take hold, Alex finds that it’s time to clear his conscience. He sets out to take down his employers before they can take him down, trying to stay one step ahead of FBI agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce), who is investigating the trafficking operation. Serra is trying hard to crack this case but finds that his efforts are blocked at every turn, and he is unable to do much more than occasionally pound his fist on a desk before angrily exiting the room while chewing on his mustache. There are no such restrictions for Alex—except for his failing memory, which makes his quest a race against time
There’s so much wrong with Memory that it’s hard to know where to start. The story is so awkward, and the sense of flow is so badly off rhythm it seems likely that significant sections have been left on the cutting room floor. Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, GoldenEye, The Mask of Zorro) is known for making movies that run a bit long but make up for their meandering moments with slam-bang action. In the case of Memory, all we get is an hour and 53 minutes of aimlessness, punctuated by a couple of moments of gunfire. Perhaps the hasty, “let’s try to salvage this in the editing room” approach accounts for the fact that Neeson doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as Pearce, despite being billed as the lead and featured as a solo act on the posters.
The deck is stacked against both actors either way, and between Neeson’s poorly-developed character and Pearce’s propensity toward hamminess, it’s a failure all around. There’s an unintentionally humorous moment when Neeson is explaining to Pearce that he writes notes on his arm to help remember, but it doesn’t last, and you can almost see in Pearce’s eyes that he’s fighting back saying “have you considered tattoos?”
Campbell has been relegated to television and lower-level, mid-budget action films since the disastrous Green Lantern, but even weak efforts like The Foreigner and The Protégé have had brief moments where you can see a faint glimmer of what he used to be, but not in Memory. In fairness, I don’t really want to be having fun with a movie about Alzhiemer’s and sex trafficking, yet there has to be some reason we’re even watching this story.
Memory is too pulpy to be taken seriously yet too grim to be entertaining, and frankly, the bad taste factor in the callous way such serious subjects are handled is disheartening at best. De Zaak Alzheimer, the 2003 Belgian thriller upon which Memory is based, had some of the same troubles but benefitted from feeling more artsy simply because it was in French, as well as from a cast and creative team that wasn’t merely going through the motions.
Memory may be the worst film I’ve seen from Neeson or Campbell, and it certainly ranks somewhere in the bottom 15 for Pearce. Memory is as forgettable as movies get, and it’s destined to underwhelm both audiences and critics. I only hope that Campbell can find at least one more film to make before retiring. It’s becoming increasingly clear that he doesn’t have another classic left in him, but almost anything else would make for a less pathetic last entry in the veteran director’s filmography. –Patrick Gibbs
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