Producers: Nick Gordon, Trevor Matthews, Michael Sugar and Ashley Zalta  Director: Michael Keaton  Screenplay: Gregory Poirier  Cast: Michael Keaton, Al Pacino, Marcia Gay Harden, James Marsden, Suzy Nakamura, John Hoogenakker, Joanna Kulig, Ray Mckinnon, Lela Loren, Dennis Dugan, Morgan Bastin, Charles Bisset, Jay Paulson and Paul Perri   Distributor: Saban Films

Grade: C

You might have forgotten that in “The Merry Gentleman” (2008), the previous film in which he directed himself, Michael Keaton played a hitman, one of the army of such hired assassins that populates contemporary movies.  His character, Frank Logan, was suicidal.  In “Knox Goes Away,” the second, he’s a hitman again, but this time one with a serious medical condition: as we learn in the first scene, in which Keaton’s John Knox, sometimes called Aristotle because of his impressive learning, is diagnosed by a noted neurologist (Paul Perri) with Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, a form of dementia.

Even this wrinkle in the hitman genre is not new: you might recall that Liam Neeson, in Martin Campbell’s “Memory” (2022), played a contract killer suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s, and that movie was based on a 2003 Belgian thriller that went back to a 1985 novel.  But “Knox” goes it one better: Creutzfeldt-Jacob, like Alzheimer’s, robs its victim of memory. but in weeks rather than months or years.

Its progression is indeed swift here, unfolding over a mere seven weeks, shown passing via captions. Knox, suffering from mental confusion (depicted in hallucinatory collages fashioned by Keaton, cinematographer Marshall Adams and editor Jessica Hernandez), muffs a final assignment, accidentally killing his friend and long-time partner Muncie (Ray McKinnon) and making a mistake in staging the scene to look like a murder-suicide, thus piquing the suspicions of Detective Emily Ikari (Suzy Nakamura).  Knox understandably decides to cash in his nest egg and disappear, enlisting his accountant (Dennis Dugan) and his mentor and friend Xavier Crane (Al Pacino) in doing so, though for the moment he doesn’t tell them why.

As he starts packing up even as he keeps his weekly appointment with his mistress Annie (Joanna Kulig), however, Knox has a surprise visitor: his estranged son Miles (James Marsden), whom he hasn’t seen in years.  Arriving on John’s doorstep bloodied and panic-stricken, Miles confesses that he’s just stabbed a man to death—one Andrew Palmer (Charles Bisset), a sleazebag white supremacist who’d lured Miles’s sixteen-year-old daughter Kaylee (Morgan Bastin) into a sexual relationship online and gotten her pregnant.  Miles begs his father to help him evade the law, using the tricks of his trade, and John agrees.

John’s plan for getting his son off the hook is so complex that Xavier, to whom he explains his condition while asking him to help, considers its chance of success poor because it’s predicated on the precise execution of many interconnected parts–and by a man with a failing memory.  Without being told what those parts are—the screenplay divulges them only grudgingly (and, frankly, imperfectly) at the close, we watch John arrange matters at Palmer’s apartment and Miles’s house without being informed of precisely what he’s doing and why; we also observe him visiting his ex-wife Ruby (Marcia Gay Harden) and a cabin that once belonged to him, being prompted by Xavier periodically to jog his memory.  And we look on as Ikari and her team (John Hoogenakker and Jay Paulson), now investigating Palmer’s death as well as the earlier ones, hone in on John as a person of interest. Meanwhile Miles and his wife Cheryl (Lela Loren) try to address Kaylee’s pregnancy even as Ikari comes to suspect Miles of stabbing Palmer to death in a fit of rage.

Scripter Gregory Poirier throws a lot of curves—spitballs, too—in constructing a convoluted path to a resolution that, to be honest, is too clever and misleading by half; but Keaton, in his twin roles, almost pulls it off, as director building a brooding mood while as actor injecting his natural canniness and a touch of gallows humor to the mix.  Pacino lightens things up even more with a broad portrayal of a guy who keeps reminding Knox that he’s a thief, and Nakamura couldn’t be better as a cop frustrated at every turn by clues that just don’t add up.  Harden and Kulig are both okay in roles that frankly don’t demand much, but Marsden seems ill-at-ease as the overemotional son, a rare instance in which Keaton’s directorial instincts apparently failed him.  In a would-be crime thriller set (and shot) in the noir capital of Los Angeles, William Arnold’s production design strangely lacks much sense of place, and Alex Heffes’ score doesn’t add to the atmosphere the way classics of the genre do.

Mostly because of Keaton, “Knox Goes Away” will probably keep you interested if you’re patient enough to wait for its somewhat labored revelations.  But along the way you might find yourself a bit frustrated by this overplotted exercise in misdirection.