Review: ‘Memory’ (2022), starring Liam Neeson, Guy Pearce and Monica Bellucci

April 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Liam Neeson in “Memory” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

“Memory” (2022)

Directed by Martin Campbell 

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico and Texas, the action film “Memory” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos, Asians and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: An assassin, who’s in the early stages of having Alzheimer’s disease, goes after people involved in child sex trafficking, as his memory begins to falter.

Culture Audience: “Memory” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Liam Neeson and anyone who cares more about shootouts and other violence in a movie instead of a movie having a good story.

Monica Bellucci and Guy Pearce in “Memory” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

Liam Neeson and the filmmakers of “Memory” sink to new lows of action movie schlock with the tacky gimmick of making Neeson’s character a forgetful assassin with Alzheimer’s disease. “Memory” mishandles this debilitating disease in ways that go behind cringeworthy and are downright insulting to people who really have suffered from this terrible illness. Alzheimer’s disease robs people of the ability to remember and communicate clearly. “Memory” robs viewers who are unlucky enough to waste time and/or money watching this garbage film.

Directed by Martin Campbell and written by Dario Scardapane, “Memory” (which takes place in Mexico and Texas) is an inferior remake of director Erik Van Looy’s 2003 Belgian film “The Memory of a Killer.” Because “Memory” is based on a movie of much higher quality than this sloppy remake, it has a little bit more of a complex plot than the simplistic action junk that Neeson usually churns out with robotic regularity. However, “Memory” still manages to be a remake that pollutes the story with a lot of hackneyed stereotypes and stupid scenarios.

“Memory” starts out looking like a typical B-level crime thriller, repeating the same concept for almost all of the action movies starring Neeson. But somewhere in the middle of the film, “Memory” takes a steep nosedive into idiocy that at times can be painfully dull. There’s also very little suspense or mystery, because everything happens in such a predictable way.

In these formulaic flicks, Neeson portrays an “anti-hero” who kills people out of revenge or out of necessity because he really just wants to save helpless victims. The victims he wants to save are usually women and/or children. Neeson’s choices in starring in action movies with these repetitive plots indicate that he has a serious complex/fixation on wanting to portray “murderers with a heart of gold.”

The opening scene repeats a familiar murder scenario that’s been seen most of Neeson’s action films. In “Memory,” Neeson portrays an assassin-for-hire named Alex Lewis. The movie’s first scene takes place in Guadalajara, Mexico, where Alex is disguised as a hospital orderly on duty in the room where an elderly woman is bedridden and using an oxygen tube to breathe. Somehow, Alex knows exactly when this woman’s thuggish-looking son is going to visit.

It’s never really explained why this son is target of the murder that Alex is about to commit, but this unnamed target is first seen swaggering through the hospital with a bouquet of flowers. He leers at the hospital receptionist and flirts with her in a way that’s borderline inappropriate. She seems to like the attention though, and she smiles when it looks like he’s leaving the bouquet of flowers for her. But he smirks when he pulls the flowers away and says that the flowers aren’t for her. She looks dejected and embarrassed as he walks away.

The only purpose for this scene is to make this unnamed man look like a jerk, so viewers won’t feel much sympathy for him when Alex ambushes the man in the hospital room and strangles him to death with a wire. The man had gone to the hospital with a male companion, who didn’t accompany the man in the room when this murder took place. There is no explanation for who these men really are, because Alex isn’t really supposed to care either.

It’s the beginning of more mindless (no pun intended) scenes in “Memory,” which has Alex commit a string of badly staged murders that are too unrealistic, even in a stupid action movie. In one of the murders, Alex is in a public parking garage and ties his victim to the steering wheel of a car. And then he blows up the car, as if this parking garage doesn’t have any surveillance cameras.

In another unrealistic murder scene (shown in the “Memory” trailer), Alex shoots a man on the other side of a window in a public gym. The murder victim is on a treadmill, when the window shatters from Alex’s gunshots. A woman on a treadmill is in the same room just about a dozen feet away, but viewers are supposed to believe that, because she’s wearing headphones, she doesn’t hear the gunshots, the glass shattering, or the thud of the victim’s body hitting the floor. Meanwhile, Alex just casually walks away after gunning down this murder victim.

“Memory” also rehashes another cliché in a Neeson action movie: His character wants to quit the criminal lifestyle and “go straight.” In “Memory,” the reason why Alex wants to suddenly become an upstanding citizen is not because he has a guilty conscience about all the people he’s killed but it’s because he’s losing his ability to remember. In other words, Alex knows he will become an incompetent assassin, so he wants to quit while he’s ahead, to prevent his assassin reputation from being ruined.

It’s revealed fairly early on in the movie that Alex has an older brother who has Alzheimer’s disease and is in a nursing home, where Alex visits him and bitterly snaps at a nurse who gives Alex some helpful information. And what a coincidence: Alex has all the signs of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. He’s taking medication for it. And in one of the murder scenes, Alex accidentally drops his bottle of prescription pills at the crime scene.

After committing the hospital murder in Guadalajara, Alex is next seen in Mexico City, where he meets up with an assassin colleague named Mauricio (played by Lee Boardman), who is upset that Alex wants to quit. When Alex tells Mauricio, “I’m out,” Mauricio practically snarls at Alex and responds, “Men like us don’t retire.”

Meanwhile, Alex’s murder spree gets entangled with an undercover FBI investigation to bust an international child sex trafficking operation. FBI agent Vincent Serra (played by Guy Pearce) is first seen in the movie, in a scene taking place in El Paso, Texas. Vincent is undercover as a prostitution customer in a run-down home, where a sleazy father named Papa Leon (played by Antonio Jaramillo) is pimping out his 13-year-old daughter Beatriz Leon (played by Mia Sanchez), who’s expected to sexually service Vincent.

Papa Leon is part of an extensive sex trafficking ring that pays undocumented immigrants from Mexico to come to the United States and sell their children into sex slavery. (Beatriz’s mother is not seen or mentioned in this movie.) The undercover sting goes awry, when Beatriz notices that Vincent is wearing a surveillance wire. She shouts this information to her father, who panics and attacks Vincent.

A major physical fight ensues between Papa Leon and Vincent. FBI agents, who were listening in during this sting operation in a nearby van, rush to the building to provide backup for Vincent. Papa Leon and Vincent crash out of a second-floor window during their brawl. Papa Leon is instantly killed in the fall, while Vincent has sustained minor injuries.

Beatriz is taken to a detention center for undocumented immigrants. When Vincent visits Beatriz, he tries to get information from her about the people who are part of this sex trafficking ring. She refuses to tell because her father ordered her never to snitch, and she’s very angry at Vincent, whom she blames for her father’s death.

Vincent feels guilty because he knows how inhumane these detention centers can be. And so, even though Beatriz is an uncooperative witness, Vincent arranges for her to be taken out of the detention center and into a group home for orphaned children. If Vincent thought that Beatriz would be safer in this group home, he was wrong.

That’s because the “one last hit” that Alex has agreed to do before he “retires” takes place in El Paso, and it involves Beatriz. Alex been ordered to kill two people in this hit job: One is a businessman named Ellis Van Camp (played by Scot Williams), whom Alex strangles in Ellis’ home where Ellis lives with his wife Wendy Can Camp (played by Rebecca Calder) and their teenage daughter. Only Ellis is killed, because “Memory” goes out of its way to show that Alex doesn’t kill “innocent” women and children.

Alex finds out that the other person he’s supposed to kill in this hit job Beatriz. He doesn’t find out that she’s a child until he shows up and surprises her while she’s sleeping in the group home. It’s a huge, hard-to-believe plot hole that a so-called “professional” hit man doesn’t even know what his target looks like, let alone that she’s a child. Alex is horrified when he sees that Beatriz is a child. Beatriz sees this stranger with a gun pointed at her, so she begs him not to kill her. Alex backs away and leaves the house undetected.

Alex tells Mauricio that he won’t go through with the deal, because Alex says he will never kill children. Even if Alex wanted to return the money that he was paid, Mauricio warns Alex that he can’t cancel the deal, but Alex doesn’t care. The person who hired Alex for this assassin job is a real estate attorney named William Borden (played by Daniel De Bourg), who gets roughed up and punched by Alex when Alex tells William to call off this assassin contract.

Meanwhile, because of the botched sting involving Papa Leon and because Beatriz is an uncooperative witness who is likely to be deported, the FBI dismantles the task force that was involved in this sting. Vincent is upset because he thinks the group is close to busting the leaders and frequent customers of this sex trafficking ring. Vincent’s immediate supervisor is a no-nonsense FBI official named Gerald Nussbaum (played by Ray Fearon), who tells Vincent that the orders to shut down the task force came from FBI authorities who are ranked higher than Gerald.

The other task force members are a sensible and even-tempered FBI agent named Linda Amistead (played by Taj Atwal) and a mysterious and hot-headed Mexican law enforcement official named Hugo Marquez (played by Harold Torres), who has a vague background and prefers to be called Marquez. It’s stated that Marquez might or might not have official authority to help this task force, but apparently, the FBI in this movie never bothered to check. The task force needs Marquez because he claims to have connections in Mexico that can help the task force members get the information that they need. The FBI has officially disbanded the task force, but Vincent, Linda and Marquez agree to secretly continue working on the case together.

It should come as no surprise that Ellis Van Camp was suspected of being involved in this sex-trafficking ring. That’s why Vincent, Linda and Hugo go to the Van Camp house to interview Ellis’ widow Wendy, who is not helpful because she claims she doesn’t know why her husband was murdered. The El Paso Police Department has a detective named Danny Mora (played by Ray Stevenson), who’s heading the murder investigation. Detective Mora is at the house to interview Wendy too.

Predictably, the FBI agents clash with the cops from the El Paso Police Department, as more murders are committed in El Paso that are related to this sex trafficking ring. William Borden works for a real estate mogul named Davana Sealman (played by Monica Bellucci), who runs her company with her spoiled son Randy Sealman (played by Josh Taylor), whom she sometimes calls Rafo. They’re all desperately looking for some computer flash drives that have some very incriminating evidence.

Even before the movie reveals what’s on the flash drives, it’s very easy to figure out who are the guilty people, and why they don’t want anyone else to know what’s on the flash drives. And when Alex finds out, suddenly he doesn’t want to be a retired hit man anymore. He wants to kill everyone he can find who’s involved in this sex trafficking ring. There are no real surprises in “Memory,” which has all the subtlety of one of the movie’s many bloody shootout scenes.

One of the people killed by Alex is William Borden, whose murder is already revealed in the “Memory” trailer. Some innocent people who are not involved in the sex trafficking get killed along the way too. Law enforcement is hunting Alex, who is the prime suspect in all of these deaths. Meanwhile, the people who hired Alex want him dead because he didn’t kill Beatriz. It all just leads to one ludicrous chase and fight scene after another.

There’s a gruesome point in the movie where Alex gets a deep gunshot wound in his abdomen, and he lights the wound on fire, ostensibly to try to disinfect the wound so he could remove the bullet. But Alex actually doesn’t remove the bullet. That’s because his Alzheimer’s disease kicks in at random moments and he forgets things. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

“Memory” is plagued with a lot of hokey dialogue and awkward scenes. For example, there are multiple scenes where vain and image-conscious Davana is getting Botox treatments in her home from her personal physician, Dr. Joseph Myers (played by Atanas Srebrev), who tactfully tries to tell her to age gracefully. Davana doesn’t want to hear it though. She spouts some gibberish about DNA being like an algorithm and that aging should be manipulated and controlled like an algorithm.

In another clumsily acted sequence, FBI investigators interview Maryanne Borden (played by Natalie Anderson), the widow of slain attorney William Borden. Maryanne, who is haughty and dismissive, essentially tells investigators that she was a trophy wife who really didn’t love her husband. Later, Marquez goes to the Borden home alone to get more information from Maryanne, who’s in a once-piece swimsuit, and she tries to seduce him by pulling down the upper half of the swimsuit. If this is movie’s attempt to be sexy, it’s a miserable failure.

In another scene that looks very phony, Vincent and Linda are “undercover” at a yacht party attended by Randy Sealman. The problem with this scene is that Vincent and Linda look, act and dress like obvious law enforcement agents who are there as part of an investigation. While everyone on the yacht is dressed in swimwear or party clothes, Vincent and Linda are dressed in casual business suits. These FBI agents glance furtively around at people when they talk, because clearly look like they don’t know anyone at the party. It’s just an example of the many terribly filmed scenes in the movie.

Alex’s murky past is given a very lackluster and poorly conceived backstory. When Vincent does a background check on prime suspect Alex, this FBI agent finds out that Alex and his brother used to be troublemakers in their childhood, with arrest records for their crimes. However, Alex and his father both have death certificates. What really happened in this family? That part of the story is not as intriguing as “Memory” would lead viewers to believe, because it all takes a back seat to the violence and gore.

None of the acting in “Memory” is special, because all of the main stars of the movie have played versions of these characters in much better films. Bellucci’s stiff and wooden acting drags the film down even more. Neeson’s character in “Memory” forgets a lot of important details, but it seems like Neeson has forgotten how to make good action films.

Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment released “Memory” in U.S. cinemas on April 29, 2022.

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