Review – Wait, Didn’t Neeson Do This Before? (“Memory”)

A remake of the 2003 Belgian film, The Alzheimer Case, it looks like Liam Neeson is slowly going the Bruce Willis/Nicholas Cage route; making movie after movie regardless of content or story. What’s next, Liam? Babysitting kids? Space aliens?

More or less following the same beats of the 2003 movie, Neeson plays Alex Lewis, a contract killer currently on assignment in El Paso, Texas, but he’s got a problem: he’s got Alzheimer’s like his far-worse brother and he wants out. However, there’s that universal movie trope (“one last job”) to deal with, so he takes it. His first hit goes off well, gathering some flash drives in the process, but his second score hits a major snag as the target is a young girl (Mia Sanchez). Alex has a rule: never kill a kid! His employer, the obscenely-wealthy real estate mogul, Davana Sealman (Monica Bellucci), doesn’t like loose ends and has a fellow assassin off the child and tries to kill Alex.

Meanwhile, while all this is going on, local FBI agents are on the scene trying to piece all the killings together. Intense Det. Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce) wants to catch the bad guys, along with his likable partner, Det. Linda Amistead (Taj Atwal) and a hot-headed Mexican agent, Hugo Marquez (Harold Torres). As Alex discovers a web of lies and corruption that was supposed to remain a secret, he decides to take out the trash by himself, leaving clues for Vincent to follow. But, in the meantime, he’ll do what he does best, unless he starts to forget. Good thing he writes stuff down on his arm so he can remember. . . just like Guy Pearce did in his movie, Memento.

As I said, the plot kinda-sorta stays the course as the 2003 film, with some variations and scene changes here and there, featuring a completely different (and better) alternate ending. This is Dario Scardapane’s first screenplay, having written only for TV shows like The Bridge, Punisher, and Trauma. The problem here in adapting the movie is the through-line, which was much better in the 2003 film with its pacing, logic, and transitions. But in this version, it’s all choppy, forced, and feels like two separate movies battling against each other. Honestly, this should have been a VOD or straight-to-DVD rental. It’s not bad, but it’s not that great either. It’s the Chicken McNuggets of crime movies.

Martin Campbell, who has directed some epic movies (Goldeneye, Mask of Zorro, Casino), takes a vacation here, as this movie doesn’t have any of the razzamatazz of his other films. It’s just a “set-up & shoot” movie, but with one thing going for it, the acting. It’s here the movie doesn’t skimp. Neeson, usually playing the hard-edged, stone-cold killer is a sympathetic assassin with some major health issues you can actually root for. And he doesn’t phone in his role, either. Pearce, likewise, gives a gritty, bravura performance as the truth-seeking FBI agent with a conscience. Atwal is wonderful and Torres is excellent and reminiscent of a younger John Leguizamo. And young Sanchez, for a small, short role, is terrific.

**Now showing only in theaters

The Memory of a Killer aka The Alzheimer Case (2003)

Shot in Belgium, this foreign import (with English subtitles) is more of a buddy-cop character study than an action thriller. Directed by Eric VanLooy like a CSI: SVU episode, it’s filled with occasional bizarre and unnatural edits, slo-mo’s, and color-saturated flash-backs. Odd.

After a brief encounter with a sting operation gone wrong to stop a child prostitution ring, we fast-forward to meet Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir), an aging former assassin-for-hire who agrees to one last job, despite his growing mental deterioration and dependency on some experimental medication. On his hit-list are two people; first up, kill some journalist and recover a secret package from him. Easy. The second victim, however, is Bieke Cuypers (Laurien VanDenBroeck) a tween girl who was pimped out by her father. This is where Ledda draws the line and refuses to shoot a kid.

Naturally, his employer, the super-wealthy and prominent Baron Henri Gustave deHaeck (Jo DeMeyere) won’t have this and has another hitman kill Bieke and Ledda. But Ledda kills the hitman, setting up a strange puzzle for the local police inspectors to muse over. Wise Det. Eric Vincke (Loen DeBouw) and his younger, more fun-loving partner, Det. Freddy Verstuyft (Werner DeSmedt) are on the trail of the killer, but can’t figure out the clues. Not until Ledda steps in and lends a hand. Why? It seems that Ledda has stumbled onto why he was hired in the first place; to silence anyone who knows that Jean deHaeck (Tom VanDyck)–the Baron’s sleazy son–likes to have sex with little girls! Sounds like a plot lifted from 2005’s Sin City, huh?

Anyway, as Ledda is trying to keep his memory in check, Eric and Freddy are starting to close in, thanks to the tips that Ledda provides, that is, when the old man isn’t dropping bodies all over town. I must say, for a man who’s supposed to be battling a horrible mental disease, he’s doing remarkably well! Not only is he a crack shot every time, but he easily escapes some sticky situations. At nearly two hours, this lengthy crime procedural tends to overstay its visit, but still manages to hold your interest in this cat ‘n’ mouse game.

If you were expecting a fast-paced, action-packed, bullets flying, bombs exploding, car chase movie, forget it. This is like watching a very long, but fascinating CSI TV show with some strange creative camera choices and a dumb soundtrack that sounds like some guy loudly banging two heavy metal trash can lids together. Jan Decleir, who looks like James Whitmore (“Brooks”) from The Shawshank Redemption, is excellent, as is handsome and suave Koen DeBouw (Belgium’s answer to Jon Hamm), who exudes coolness. You can’t find this movie online anywhere, only rentable DVD’s.       

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