A contract killer with Alzheimer’s Disease? It sounds like the setup for a really bad Saturday Night Live sketch. In fact, it was the setup for a pretty good Belgian action thriller called De zaak Alzheimer, which was released in America in 2005 under the title The Memory of a Killer. This week comes the Hollywood remake, which is simply titled Memory and stars Liam Neeson. The main fault I find in this is that it’s too much like Run All Night and Honest Thief and The Marksman and the other thrillers that Neeson has starred in.
He plays Alex Lewis, a gringo based in Mexico City who offs anyone his boss (Lee Boardman) pays him to. He has already received his diagnosis when he’s sent to his hometown of El Paso for a hit. Once north of the border, he discovers that his target is a 13-year-old girl (Mia Sanchez) and refuses the job, telling the client’s rep that no killer for hire will murder a child. Unfortunately, the client is not an idiot, so Alex’s boss shoots the girl himself and then comes after him.
The biggest flaw with The Memory of a Killer was that the Alzheimer’s was basically a giant red herring, with the protagonist accomplishing everything he wanted before he started to decline cognitively. That has been fixed here, as Alex forgets things that prevent him from operating smoothly. The setting has moved from the Franco-Belgian border to the more fraught U.S.-Mexico border, and the filmmakers have used this wisely — the case hinges on a pedophile construction magnate (Josh Taylor) who built ICE’s detention centers for undocumented immigrants and used the facilities as his own personal hunting grounds for underage girls to rape, which isn’t that far from reality. Alex kills this man before the movie is half over before moving on to his enablers and protectors, leaving a blood-streaked breadcrumb trail for FBI Agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce) and his joint task force of feds and Mexican cops to find the truth. The task force has to work against the interference of the El Paso cops, who are depicted here as a bunch of truly vile human beings.
I did miss the original’s genuinely funny banter among the law-enforcement characters, and at 114 minutes, this remake certainly had time for that. The deck is too transparently stacked so that the heroes have to work outside the law and the FBI man and the killer are on the same side, and director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) never matches the original’s slow-burn scene outside a gated home that proved its protagonist’s badassery. (Although, this movie has a darkly funny bit when Alex shoots a man running on a treadmill in a gym, and nobody else in the gym notices the murder.) Neeson is more engaged portraying the specifics of Alzheimer’s and the desperation of a man on his last legs, but this would have more impact if it could boast of more uniqueness than its premise, or an actor whom we haven’t already seen as an old man trying to do the right thing before it’s too late.
Starring Liam Neeson and Guy Pearce. Directed by Martin Campbell. Written by Dario Scardapane, based on Jef Geeraerts’ novel and Carl Joos and Erik van Looy’s screenplay. Rated R.