There are varying degrees of irony in the title of Liam Neeson’s latest thriller, Memory. Watching the film, the viewer is bound to overcome with a sense of familiarity. For me, that’s because I recently watched Neeson’s Blacklight, which hit most of the same bullet points. Even if you skipped Blacklight, which is likely the case based on the box office returns, Memory is sure to trigger Déjà vu if you’ve seen anything between Taken and The Ice Road in Neeson’s filmography. Despite the repetition, Memory has an intriguing hook that seems like it might differentiate the film from other Neeson thrillers.
“I’m getting too old for this s**t” is a phrase that will forever belong to Danny Glover, but it’d sound just as fitting coming out of Neeson’s mouth. For somebody pushing 70, Neeson has proven that he can still be intimidating, charismatic, and badass. While his signature grit is on full display in Memory, this is arguably the first film to acknowledge that Neeson might be outgrowing this archetype. The film opens with Neeson’s Alex pulling off an assassination with expert precision. The only hiccup comes when Alex gets back into his car and forgets where his keys are. Although Alex quickly finds them, a lapse in memory can easily spell his ultimate demise.
The idea has echoes of Memento as Alex gets caught between the FBI and Mexican intelligence in a plot laced with death, trafficking, and political corruption. Speaking of Memento, the film stars Guy Pearce as Vincent, an FBI agent on his trail. Herein lies the film’s problem. Memento put us in Pearce’s character’s shoes, keeping us guessing who he could trust. Memory constantly shifts between Alex and Vincent. Although only Liam is on the poster, Pearce is practically a co-lead. While Pearce gives a reliably solid performance, we’re not given enough time with Neeson to fully experience what he’s going through.
Memory thus feels like two different movies. One is a straight forward version of Memento and the other is just a straight forward crime thriller. The ultimate irony is that none of it is especially memorable. Some movies you watch and slowly forget about over time. With Memory, I’m honestly struggling to remember what happened only a few days after watching it. Maybe my memory just isn’t what it used to be, but the more likely explanation is that I’ve seen so many Neeson thrillers that they’re all blending together. I might be more forgiving if Memory was just another Neeson thriller, but there was real promise with this setup.
The talent involved also suggested that Memory might be above average. Director Martin Campbell has breathed new life into franchises like James Bond and Zorro, but he feels like a director for hire here. It’s directed competently, but Campbell adds nothing new to the formula. In addition to Neeson and Pearce, the cast includes commendable performances from Monica Bellucci, Ray Stevenson, and newcomer Taj Atwal. Unfortunately, they’re saddled with a script that takes few chances, although opportunity was staring the screenwriters in the face. It’s hard to get mad at a movie you’ll forget about right after watching, but it’s still 104 minutes you can’t get back.