"Memory" initially engrossing but not, um, memorable

Memory (2022)

One might accuse Liam Neeson of making the same movie over and over again, post “Taken.” But considering several of them are actually solidly made action programmers, that would imply that they are all good. “Memory” is a little less indistinguishable than the last Neeson vehicle from February (according to my review, it was called “Blacklight”), but a biannual Neeson movie seems to be more of a threat than a promise lately. 

This month, Neeson plays Alex Lewis, a contract killer who’s living in El Paso, Texas. Before retiring due to advanced Alzheimer’s, he takes on one last assignment. This job, however, leads Alex to a child prostitution ring run by real estate mogul Davana Sealman (a somnambulant Monica Bellucci) and her sleazy adult son (Josh Taylor). Alex goes soft when he refuses to kill one of the hits: a sex trafficker’s 13-year-old daughter (Mia Sanchez), who coincidentally was saved by FBI agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce). As Alex’s string of hits piles up, Vincent and his FBI partners (Taj Atwal, Harold Torres) are on his tail, as is someone who wants him dead. Besides jotting down notes on his arm, what can Alex do as his memory quickly declines? He’ll kill anyone, but a child, forget it!

Based on the book “De Zaak Alzheimer” by Jef Geeraerts and the 2003 Belgian film “The Memory of a Killer” (or “The Alzheimer Affair”), “Memory” was most likely intended to be a labyrinthine noir thriller. Veteran director Martin Campbell, who’s given us two Bonds and two Zorros, helms most of this capably, but writer Dario Scardapane’s script feels more like multiple plot threads shuffled together as we wait for them to finally connect. The whole memory-loss gimmick is ridiculous and not handled in an interesting way; it does make one want to go back and watch “Memento,” a better Guy Pearce movie, and it doesn’t even have the decency to milk this device as far as “Unknown,” a slicker, more fun Neeson outing.

“Memory” might be trying to take a mirror to the real world with immigration detention camps and Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-trafficking ring, but lip service isn’t really the same as commentary. One final move by the real protagonists is supposed to read as vigilantism, but it just comes across as morally hypocritical. When “Memory” isn’t unpleasant in an attempt to be bold, it can be unintentionally funny, like the lovely sex worker (Stella Stocker) Alex picks up at a hotel running directly into danger because he forgot his pills, or Alex cauterizing his bullet wound on his stomach by setting it on fire.

When we first meet Alex, blending in at a Guadalajara hospital in nurse scrubs and then strangling a patient’s son with a wire, the setup is sufficiently engrossing but only just. Besides Liam Neeson finally playing a killer with dementia, there isn’t much else to Alex Lewis, while Guy Pearce’s Vincent Serra is the only character to give us a reason to care. Some of the action set-pieces are gnarly and tightly edited, specifically one in a parking garage, or quick and satisfying, like a hit through the window of a gym at night. Ultimately, this is for Neeson completists only, but even they are better off rewatching the skilled Irishman’s finer hours. Somehow, the filmmakers have found a way to make a movie called “Memory” and make it pretty forgettable.


Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment are releasing “Memory” (114 min.) in theaters on April 29, 2022.