Latest Neeson film is one to forget
No one seems invested in film
Since his iconic tough-guy role in 2008’s Taken, Liam Neeson has been on a mission with his specific set of skills: To star in as many similarly budgeted and crafted action movies as humanly possible. From anonymous thrillers like Unknown to Blacklight from just this year, the nearly 70-year-old doesn’t seem to turn his nose up at any script, provided his character growls some threatening lines and gets to punch a few people along the way.
His latest endeavor along these lines is Memory, an English-language remake of early-aughts Belgian thriller The Alzheimer Case, itself adapted from a novel of the same name. With an accomplished director like Martin Campbell at the helm, this movie had the potential to be a memorable entry in Neeson’s unofficial “Old Guy with a Gun” franchise, but instead it falls far short of that mark.
Neeson is Alex Lewis, a veteran assassin whose brutal precision is skillfully depicted in the film’s opening minutes when he ambushes a target in front of his hospital bed-ridden mother. The latest task from Alex’s handler calls him to El Paso, New Mexico, where he’s expected to eliminate an underage girl holding information that could be passed to the FBI. In addition to the job conflicting with his principled stand to never kill children, Alex is struggling to keep his advanced Alzheimer’s diagnosis from interfering with his work. When someone gets to Alex’s mark before he does, FBI agents Vincent (Guy Pearce) and Linda (Taj Atwal) begin to follow the trail of mistakes that the ailing Alex leaves behind, eventually leading to hedge fund CEO Davana Sealman (Monica Bellucci) and a band of child traffickers under her employ.
It may be enough to say that no one seems like they want to be in Memory, but more specifically, no one feels like they belong in the world that Memory attempts to create. Everything feels like it doesn’t fit together, and naturally, the actors seem uncomfortable as a result.
It would be easy to take Neeson’s awkward performance and pin its stilted nature on the condition from which his character suffers, but there are more fundamental problems here. It’s not that he can’t be bothered to give a compelling performance in one of these on-brand actioners anymore; it’s that this outing seems like his first time appearing in one when the complete opposite is true. Elsewhere, Pearce engages in dialect rodeo with a Texas accent that barely hangs on at times, but otherwise wavers violently from line to line.
This sort of cops and robbers — perhaps agents and assassins is a better fit — story isn’t particularly novel anyway, but scribe Dario Scardapane peppers in a plethora of character details that add up to nothing. Much of the film boils down to Vincent and Linda meeting with witnesses or suspects, but these parlays go round and round with virtually no benefit to the story. I’m all for character refinement, but when we’re an hour in and learning about a tertiary character’s former Olympic swimming career as opposed to what Alex is going to do next, something has gone awry.
Campbell, also responsible for directing two all-time great James Bond entries, seems to lose interest in Alex’s dementia for most of the runtime, just to exploit it later for an eye roll-inducing last act reveal.
It would be reasonable to expect that Neeson is about ready to hang up his “action star” hat and that Memory would be his last time fronting this type of action thriller, but he’s reportedly in the middle of filming another one right now. He’s obviously a talented performer, and even during this gun-heavy period of his career, he’s given terrific performances in films like Ordinary Love and Widows.
I can’t say I understand what is driving Neeson to keep doing these films. He even joked about the dubious existence of a second Taken sequel, only to eventually appear in it anyway.
If these films allow him to appear in smaller movies without having to sweat a paycheck, then I suppose they may be worth continuing to endure. We can only hope that the next one isn’t as bad as Memory.
New movies coming this weekend
Playing only in theaters is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the newest MCU superhero film starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen following the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home as Strange looks to mend the multiverse with the help of Scarlet Witch and other mystical allies.
Streaming on Netflix is Marmaduke, an animated adaptation of the titular comic strip starring Pete Davidson and J.K. Simmons about a legendary dog trainer who believes he can help Marmaduke become the first Great Dane in history to win the Westminster Champions trophy.
Premiering on HBO Max is Navalny, a documentary that follows the monthslong recovery of the Russian opposition leader who survived an assassination attempt by poisoning with a lethal nerve agent in August 2020.