Memory's premise may be the mother of all high concepts: a hired assassin suffers Alzheimer's disease. It immediately conjures up two interpretations: searing black comedy on the one hand, and contemplative musings on life and death on the other. A third alternative, in the right hands, may combine the two. Even with a couple of soulful actors at its centre, Martin Campbell's film, directed from a screenplay by Dario Scardapane, plays out as none of the above; it's a mechanical plot point in a perfunctory actioner that leaves laughs — intentional ones, at least — and existential meditations by the wayside.
Memory is a remake of the 2003 Belgian film The Memory of a Killer, which was based on the novel De Zaak Alzheimer (The Alzheimer Case). It has all the trappings of the contract-killer genre: burner phones, silencers, laser sights, and Liam Neeson. This time, though, Neeson is a mercenary who is faced with an undesirable mission – his target is a 13-year-old girl — and is striving to do the right thing before his dimming brain lights go out permanently.
For one thing, Neeson isn't really the good guy here, or even the bad man with a good heart. Alex Lewis, his character, is a cold-blooded killer. With one exception — the barely teenage prostitute (Mia Sanchez) Alex refuses to kill after he’s hired to kill a couple of people to cover up a child-exploitation ring — he has few qualms about whom he murders. In Alex's single-minded effort to take out members of the international sex-trafficking gang, cops, in particular, are so much collateral damage. The fact that he's losing his memory and has to scribble reminders on his forearm with a Sharpie makes him even less sympathetic.
Many of Liam Neeson's recent roles have a similarity to them. With a few notable recent exceptions that still demonstrate his depth and range — "Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House," "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs," "Ordinary Love" — the Oscar-nominated star of "Schindler's List" has recently become more associated with action thrillers in which he plays a certain type:According To Uswhispers an emotionally damaged, possibly demon-driven antihero/loner plagued by alcoholism, For the same reason, the quality of these flicks alternates between pleasant and disappointing. Because Neeson is so good at playing this generic role, he doesn't always put out his best effort. It's sometimes a delight to be carefree, and other times it's just laziness.