Liam Neeson in an action movie is old hat by now. Hell, even just a few months ago, he was in another film (Blacklight, reviewed here) where he had a special set of skills. Neeson is too talented of an actor to be stuck in these kinds of throwaway flicks, but sometimes, there’s a bit more on display than meets the eye. That’s periodically the case here with Memory, a violent genre effort that not only gives Neeson a gimmick to actually do some acting with, but has a solid director at the helm. It’s ultimately very average, but there are flickers of something a little bit better, and that’s at least something.
Memory has a high concept for an action film, even if it ultimately gets bogged down with cliches and set-pieces. A hitman struggling with cognitive decline has potential, especially with someone like Neeson in the role. However, while there are highlights, a bloated runtime and several unoriginal elements keep it from finding its true footing.
Alex Lewis (Neeson) is a talented assassin-for-hire, though one struggling with the onset of Alzheimers. We meet him dispatching a contract with brutal efficiency, but then forgetting where his car keys are. Medication is slowing the effects, but he’s clearly losing this battle. Planning to get out, he tells his contact Mauricio (Lee Boardman) the news, but of course, gets roped into one last job. The contract is two people, one of which he handles quickly. The other, however, is a thirteen year old girl named Beatriz (Mia Sanchez), and Alex can’t pull the trigger. Demanding the contract be canceled, he instead becomes a target himself.
While Alex’s story is going on, we also meet FBI agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce), who feels a responsibility for Beatriz, after rescuing her from sex slavery in a sting gone wrong. As bodies begin piling up, he and his fellow agents (Taj Atwal and Harold Torres) go looking for Alex, while trying to figure out just what is going on. How this ties together, as well as what a shady yet wealthy woman named Davana Sealman (Monica Bellucci) ties in, well, that’s just par for the genre course, but of course it includes evidence Alex is hold on to, if only he could remember where he hid it.
Both Liam Neeson and Guy Pearce are talented actors, and while they hint at more, as well as elevate the material, they still appear a touch bored by it all. Neeson does give weight to the memory loss elements, though when he’s just being a badass, it’s what we’ve seen so many times before. Pearce has an underwritten role that features a small reveal you’ll see coming, but he’s suitably intense. The rest of the cast are barely utilized, or in Bellucci’s case, poorly utilized. Supporting players include Natalie Anderson, Daniel De Bourg, Ray Fearon, Antonio Jaramillo, Ray Stevenson (totally wasted), Stella Stocker, Josh Taylor, Scot Williams, and more, though it’s clearly meant as a Neeson vehicle.
Director Martin Campbell has a brutal efficiency to his work, which serves Memory well, though it could have used a little more style. Moreover, the screenplay by Dario Scardapane (a book adaptation as well as a remake) just never invests you in any of the characters, so Campbell can only do so much. Scardapane clearly wants to make this feel timely, with ICE camps featured prominently, but then there are scenes that play almost like parodies of the sort of film he’s trying to make. Running nearly two hours long, there’s no sense of pacing, as certain parts feel lax, while others are quite rushed. It looks slick, sure, but it feels rougher than intended.
Memory is a notch above several of Liam Neeson’s recent action outings, but it still leaves you wanting more. There are bits here to like, and Martin Campbell doesn’t shy away from the darkness or violence, but it never comes together in a fully satisfying way. It certainly could have been a lot worse, but given the talent involved, it arguably should still have been better than this.