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‘Memory’ lame

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Few things give me movie critic déjà vu quite like reviewing a Liam Neeson geriaction movie. Most of the time, it feels like if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all. Mostly because if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that I dislike these movies. Though I should be clear, I don’t exactly like them either. It’s more of a fascination, the idea that these movies, despite being the very definition of formulaic, somehow keep getting financed and distributed in movie theaters nationwide.

The latest in the seemingly unending line of movies where Liam Neeson seeks vengeance and/or justice is “Memory,” directed by Martin Campbell; the screenplay was adapted by Dario Scardapane from the 2003 Belgian film “The Memory of a Killer.” Neeson’s a bad guy this time, although in these circumstances, he’s on the right side ethically, if not necessarily legally.

He’s a guy with a certain set of skills who is thrust into a situation that spirals out of his control. He uses his talents to protect himself, yes, but also to do right by a powerless person who has suffered at the hands of someone at the elite levels of money and power.

(Seriously – how many times have you seen this movie?)

But while I’ll concede that this movie is superior to other recent entries on Neeson’s old-man CV (like “Blacklight,” which you’ll be shocked to be reminded came out less than three months ago – or at least, I was shocked), it’s still not anything like a good movie. There’s a basic competence at work here, both behind and in front of the camera, but the paint-by-numbers plotting and the unsavory subject matter make it tough to give this film anything more than a shoulder shrug.

Alex Lewis (Liam Neeson) is an elite assassin, the type of guy that bad people pay to make their problems go away. He’s still very good at what he does, but he is struggling with early onset dementia; his memory is going fast and he won’t be able to hold off the deterioration with medication for much longer. Still, he reluctantly takes on another job, this one in his hometown of El Paso.

At the same time, FBI Agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce) is working on a human trafficking case. His task force compatriots are Linda (Taj Atwal) and Hugo (Harold Torres), operating under the leadership of Gerald Nussbaum (Ray Fearon). However, when things go sideways during an operation, the case is blown up, though Serra still tries to do right by one of the victims, a young girl named Beatriz (Mia Sanchez).

When Lewis comes into town, he starts taking care of his business. But he is quickly confronted by the reality of the situation, a line that he will not cross. Said refusal to cross a line instead puts him in the crosshairs, with plenty of people willing to finish his job – and him – in order to clean things up for the rich and powerful out there.

As you might expect, Alex and Vincent come to realize that even though they operate on opposite sides of the law, their interests might well align in this particular circumstance. And as both men do what they do best, it is soon apparent that this all goes much higher than either of them could anticipate. All this while Alex’s mental acuity deteriorates; the clock is ticking for him to be able to do what is necessary.

And that’s that for “Memory.” If a lot of that sounds familiar, well … do you really need me to tell you that Liam Neeson’s entire career has been variations on a theme for over a decade at this point? It’s like they take the same basic premise – Liam Neeson as aging badass – and just fill in the details Mad Libs-style. There is some variation in quality, but the movies are all fundamentally the same.

“Memory” is probably a bit better than average, all told. But that’s damning with faint praise; it basically means that the movie was only boring instead of actively bad. Still, we’ve seen worse from Neeson in the past. Hell, we’ve seen worse from him THIS YEAR (oh yeah, we’re back to “Blacklight”).

It’s a competently-made film; Campbell might be a few years removed from his greatest hits, but the dude made two Bond movies. He knows what he’s doing. Having not seen the Belgian film on which this is based, I can’t speak to it, but I assume it was a little more coherent than what we get here. Still, as geriaction goes, this is solid stuff.

(Here’s where we’ll note that my big issue with the narrative is the use of child sex trafficking as a plot device. I get that it’s an easy shorthand to make sure we know how bad the real bad guys are, but it felt exploitative. Plus, it all felt so ham-fisted. Pretty gross.)

Neeson isn’t doing anything surprising here. If you’ve seen one of these movies, you’ve seen them all; the only variation is what his name is and whether he’s a cop (or cop-adjacent) or criminal (or criminal-adjacent). He has his moments of tough guy talk and squinting, along with a few VERY carefully edited fight sequences, and we go about our day. He know why he’s here, you know why he’s here and he knows you know why he’s here.

Everyone else is fine. Pearce is ridiculously haircutted and mildly sweaty throughout; he’s overqualified for the gig. So too are Ray Stevenson (as a police detective) and Monica Bellucci (as a real estate mogul), both of whom get some run. Atwal and Torres are both very good as well.

“Memory” is ironically named, because it’s the latest Liam Neeson movie that you will completely forget about as soon as you reach the parking lot.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Sunday, 08 May 2022 22:41

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