Producers: Cathay Schulman, Moshe Diamant, Rupert Maconick, Michael Heimler and Arthur Sarkissian Director: Martin Campbell Screenplay: Dario Scardapane Cast: Liam Neeson, Guy Pearce, Monica Bellucci, Taj Atwal, Ray Fearon, Josh Taylor, Harold Torres, Ray Stevenson, Daniel De Bourg, Natalie Anderson, Leo Boardman, Antonio Jaramillo and Stella Stocker Distributor: Briarcliff Entertainment/Open Road
Liam Neeson plays a man afflicted with incipient Alzheimer’s in “Memory,” and given that there are so many of them coming out so frequently, one wonders whether the actor can even keep track of which mediocre action thriller he’s shooting at any given moment. At any rate, he’s convincingly confused as Alex Lewis, the hit-man he plays here.
The film, directed by Martin Campbell, who helmed two Bond pictures (“GoldenEye” and “Casino Royale”) and the Antonio Banderas “Zorro” ones but has had an erratic career, is based on a script by Dario Scardapane, which in turn was adapted from Erik Van Looy’s 2003 Belgian thriller “De Zaak Alzheimer,” released in this country as “The Memory of a Killer,” as well as Jef Geeraerts’ 1985 source novel. Van Looy’s film was excellent, and plans for an English-language remake were quickly announced. But it’s taken more than fifteen years for it to be realized, and something has gone seriously wrong in the interim. The material has gone moldy.
The location has been shifted to El Paso (though the picture was actually shot in Bulgaria), where Lewis, having disposed of a target in a Mexican hospital despite one glitch caused by his deteriorating mental condition, is assigned by his Mexican contact Mauricio (Lee Boardman) to kill a couple of witnesses who might undermine the sex-and-drugs empire controlled by corrupt but wealthy and powerful Texas businesswoman Davana Sealman (Monica Bellucci) and her son Randy (Josh Taylor).
He eliminates the first target, a sketchy businessman (Scot Williams), with ease, but when he finds out that the second is Beatriz Leon (Maya Sanchez), the adolescent daughter whose father (Antonio Jaramillo) was killed in an undercover sting by dedicated FBI agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce), he demurs.
Serra, out of a mixture of guilt and principle, has arranged for Beatriz to leave detention and get into a foster home. Lewis sneaks in with gun at the ready, but when he finds out that his quarry is just a girl, he refuses to carry out the assignment, infuriating William Borden (Daniel De Bourg), the outfit’s shady lawyer; and when his employers hire another killer to complete it (and terminate him as well), he decides to take them out instead, starting with the hit-men now after him and continuing up the chain of command through Borden to the Sealmans themselves.
That puts Serra and his team—which includes his partner Linda (Taj Atwal) and Mexican cop Hugo Marquez (Harold Torres)—in competition with Lewis to bring down the evil empire. Of course the “official” side is stymied by Davana’s influence with people like Vincent’s boss Gerald Nussbaum (Ray Fearon), as well as by rough El Paso cop Danny Mora (Ray Stevenson), who’s irritated that his turf is being invaded by the feds. Lewis, on the other hand, is free to use his skills unrestrained, though his failing memory occasionally gets in the way. Eventually the two natural adversaries embrace an uneasy semi-alliance to do what has to be done.
Neeson brings his customary intensity to Lewis, investing the role with more depth than it really deserves, and shows the hit-man’s honorable side not only with respect to Beatriz but in a brief liaison with Maya (Stella Stocker), a high-end hooker he rescues from the unwanted attentions of a drunken tourist. Pearce, who late in the film explains why he is so protective of Beatriz, is surly throughout, perhaps recalling that he was the star of a much better movie about impaired memory, Christopher Nolan’s 2000 “Memento.” The rest of the cast is adequate overall but variable, with some (like Bellucci) curiously colorless and others (like Stevenson and Natalie Anderson as Borden’s alcoholic wife) masticating the scenery.
Campbell’s direction here is more workmanlike than inspired, but he does pull off a few effectively staged moments, like Borden’s murder while exercising on a treadmill. And while the Bulgarian locations never really convince as stand-ins for Mexico and Texas, the technical package is adequate. The production design by Lorus Allen, Kes Bonnet and Wolf Kroeger is assisted somewhat by the darkness of the images in David Tattersall’s cinematography, which somewhat obscures the settings. Jo Francis’ editing is sometimes murky and sluggish, but handles the action moments decently, while Rupert Parkes’ score is unremarkable.
This isn’t the weakest of Neeson’s seemingly endless stream of action potboilers, but the only way to enjoy “Memory” even a little is to entirely erase the superior Belgian original from yours.