I’ll watch just about anything for a Guy Pearce character performance (see last year’s Zone 414). For what it’s worth, Memory does give Australia’s greatest cinematic export a chance to physically play around in the “frustrated detective at the end of his rope” domain, and he’s pretty compelling despite the movie surrounding him. The same can’t be said for star Liam Neeson, however. Neeson’s last decade of odd riffs on his Taken persona have become a meme, but it’s distressing that few of these low-rent action movies are even remotely good. Memory, aside from Pearce, is basically unwatchable — a lousy, by-the-numbers combination of Taken and Memento without the verve of the former or the cleverness of the latter.  Pearce and Neeson showing up in a late-April action cast-off is pretty in line with their careers, but the real shame of this one is that director Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Casino Royale [2006]) couldn’t make more out of it. 

Alex (Neeson) is an assassin for hire in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, which proves problematic when a clash with the usual “evil business people involved with human trafficking and land disputes” plunges him into life-or-death situations. Vincent (Pearce) is an El Paso cop with a tragic past who tries his hardest to help sex-trafficked young women. Their paths intersect when Vincent tries to help a girl who happens to be central to the sins of the men Alex is trying to kill. In some ways, Vincent wishes he could have Alex’s freedom to murder. Alex, on the other hand, just wants Vincent to get the hell out of his way.

There’s a lot going on in Memory, but none of it is particularly interesting. Neeson looks disengaged, and it’s hard to tell whether that’s his character or his engagement with the script. Alex’s memory loss goes from intriguing plot element to a semi-embarrassing physical decline, with a twist that undermines any level of sensitivity to the subject. A thriller need not feel like a documentary on memory loss, but not much is done with it in the body of the movie to make it feel additive. The plot basically follows the same detective structure as every movie like it, with the addition of a confused Neeson wandering around blowing people away. That doesn’t count for as much these days.

One early moment in Memory stood out to me. Vincent goes undercover to help bust a child prostitution ring. He walks with his gut somewhat bloated, dressed in an oversized suit that only makes him look more disheveled. His skin gleams with sweat, his usually fabulous hair combed over in the most off-putting way imaginable. The little mustache he wears looks half-grown. Untidy. He speaks with a nervous energy. I believed his performance as an everyday monster. Of course, it’s quickly revealed he’s a cop, and the scene ends with two extremely silly dummies being thrown out a window. Yada yada. It did make me wish Pearce would have a larger number of higher-profile roles these days. There’s no doubt that playing against Neeson in a film directed by Campbell looks good on paper, but I hope at some point he finds his way into another movie that really clicks.

It’s too bad this one wasn’t it.