' ' Cinema Romantico: Memory

Monday, October 17, 2022


Liam Neeson’s 2022 “Memory” feels like an unofficial sequel to his “Taken” franchise in so much as rather than some vanilla named vigilante (Alex Lewis taking the reins from Bryan Mills) seeking to rescue his kidnapped daughter or avenge his murdered wife he is exacting retribution for a trafficked teenage girl named Beatriz (Mia Sanchez). If there’s a twist, it’s that Alex isn’t a good guy gone bad, in a manner of speaking, but a bad guy gone good, a contract killer tasked with offing Beatriz to protect a wealthy so & so but refusing and coming after the people who have hired him instead. Along the way, he opens channels of covert communication with the FBI Special Agent, Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce), trying to protect the trafficked girl in the first place, not so much taunting Agent Serra as imploring him to eschew red tape. In a sense, this marks Alex Lewis as both a Malkovich and an Eastwood, which is to say he’s Mitch Leary of “In the Line of Fire” as Dirty Harry. That suggests an intriguing action thriller, especially with Martin Campbell at the helm, previously of “Casino Royale,” “Goldeneye,” and this blog’s weirdly semi-cherished “The Vertical Limit,” a New Zealand director with a gift for staging action scenes. 

Alas, all the action scenes in “Memory” feel perfunctory, disappointingly, lazily conceived. Neeson’s commitment, which we will get to more in just a moment, could have helped yield a genuine drama as opposed to thriller. But if “Memory” is essentially appropriating the grave real-world issue of Juarez’s femicides and moving it across the border to El Paso, it hardly treats it with nuance, exploiting Beatriz to gin up its plot and then forgetting about her, more interested in the woman who would have her killed. That’s Davana Sealman, your typical ignoble philanthropist played by Monica Bellucci in a performance that seems to be taking place in a third movie, the same one occupied by Natalie Anderson in a throwaway part as a bored wife straight out of “Wild Things.” Bellucci isn’t in “Wild Things,” exactly, but still seems to view this whole enterprise as a sweaty neo-noir, of some kind, giving her character a whiff of the father in “John Wick,” considering the the whole movie boils down to Davana protecting a son she knows is morally reprehensible and a total dolt to boot, having a bit more fun than the plot device might necessarily call for, as close to the kind of trash for which Wesley Morris was petitioning for just the other day as anything else I have seen so far in 2022 cinema.

Davana is also into the anti-aging process, a minuscule subplot hinting at the movie’s title, referring to Alex’s memory, given how he is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and beginning to forget things even as he robotically remembers how to dispatch so much action movie chum. Emblematic of a movie that has too many ideas, however, “Memory” itself never quite uses this for anything more than suspense, Alex forgetting crucial clues and such, just as Davana’s commitment to slow down getting old is just set-up for blackmailing her doctor. This is all unfortunate because if anything here truly seems to interest Neeson, it’s this, showing what he can (still) do when given even a little bit of character bone to gnaw on, even seeming to quietly suggest an actor who has grown tired of the schlock he has spent far too long starring in. The least convincing moment in movies like “Memory” is always the most obligatory one, when the assassin claims he’s done, wants out, which sure enough, Alex does as the movie begins Here, though, Neeson paradoxically comes alive by appearing as tired as he sounds, a guy who just wants out, in more ways than one.

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