Latest Liam Neeson thriller is beneath all involved.
In the last 15 years since 2008’s Taken, Liam Neeson has become an action hero for men over 50. Now 69 years young, Neeson continues to star in these action-focused B-movies, each riffing on the previous one. Steady paychecks seem to be cashed by the Irish actor. Filmmakers line up to direct fights in trains, planes, cars, parking lots, hospitals–anywhere there might be an ounce of criminal activity.
When first seen in Memory, the new action-thriller from Martin Campbell, Neeson is seasoned hitman Alex Lewis. However, each successive kill is tired, reminiscent of another sequence from a different film. Moreover, they lack the stakes of other Neeson flicks or the slickness of Campbell’s previous films, a far cry from his masterwork in Casino Royale (2006).
Screenwriter Dario Scardapane throws FBI detective Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce working much harder than the rest of the cast) and a child prostitution ring run by bigwig Davana Sealman (Monica Bellucci) in the mix. After receiving a contract to kill two people, including a young girl for Sealman, Lewis refuses. This leads to the FBI and the criminals behind the prostitution hunting him. He’s on the hunt, as well, as Neeson often is. He has to kill them before he loses his life and, more importantly, his memory.
The wrinkle in Scardapane’s messy, overwrought script comes with Lewis’s ongoing Alzheimer’s. The hitman writes notes on his arms, not unlike Pearce’s character in the much more memorable Memento. The entire plot never comes into view, though. All of these characters only seem loosely connected, and the emotional stakes never rise above a whimper. Why should the audience care about Lewis or Serra or any other FBI agents? Campbell wants moviegoers to latch onto the young girl from the film’s first act, imprisoned and conditioned to believe that her captors are the good guys, but the film spends little more than a few minutes on her story.
Without any depth to these characters, Memory has little to offer audiences that they haven’t seen before.
Without any semblance of ingenuity in the action sequences, the film flatlines outside of the first five minutes in which Lewis kills an unassuming man while dressed as a nurse in a hospital room. It hits a plateau with Pearce the only actor hoping to build upon any success of early returns. Unfortunately, Neeson, Bellucci, and the rest of the cast seem as interested in this story as the audience: minimally.
The film hinges on Lewis and Serra’s joint need for justice. The word is spoken multiple times as if it contains a reverence only known by those squarely on either side of the law, reserved for the hunters and the hunted. As Campbell’s film progresses and bodies pile up, no sense of justice feels served. It becomes a trite exercise in repetitive action filmmaking, stripped of originality from its actors, plot, and conclusion.
Neeson, understandably, much less performs rather than exists during a performance. His voice doesn’t even seem as gravelly while he stalks his prey around flat locations and flatter set design. The kills often feel recycled. His memory loss is mentioned but never explored. His character becomes a nuisance, a man who leaves a wake of spilled blood of kind-meaning and ill-intentioned people alike. The Irish actor seems disengaged. So does Bellucci playing the heavy with undefined intentions and a constant smirk on her face.
Without any depth to these characters, Memory has little to offer audiences that they haven’t seen before. A severe lack of popcorn fun leaves this film easily forgotten amongst a sea of better. Bet action, better Liam Neeson, better Martin Campbell, and better thrillers.
Memory is taking aim in theatres now.