Fortunately for the cause of world peace, Ashley Judd can’t speak Dutch. Yet even more unfortunate, perhaps, is that her cinematic archetype — i.e. the bedraggled, three quarter-pretty heroine in a half-bad thriller — is not lost in translation. Such is the case in Erik Van Looy’s “The Memory of a Killer,” which mangles an already contrived cinematic genre with lackluster results.
“Killer” may have its moments of near-stylish suspense, but it drowns in cliches of leather detective jackets, bottle brunettes and limp plot twists.
From start to finish, the film’s central story remains a vacuous retelling of discarded dialogue and style. From the lush terrace of an Italian restaurant, hitman Angelo Ledda (a withered Jan Decleir) receives a seemingly easy assignment — two names to erase in frigid Belgium.
Right away, Decleir looks like a benign Dennis Hopper (if you know Hopper, you know that won’t work) and sounds like a polished Rammstein vocal (ditto). The visceral aspects of this scene — Ledda, for example, acquiesces to the job order while consuming a gleaming plate of fish — are among of the most artful within the film. Needless to say, this is a paltry accolade.
After “Killer” loses its warm Italian color, it plunges into an icy blue-gray palette for Belgium, where Ledda travels with a checklist, a loaded gun, and a crippling case of Alzheimer’s. Instead of intelligently weaving the condition into the story’s fabric, Van Looy prostitutes it through cryptic and hyper-saturated flashback sequences.
In one of several “that’s-so-90s” moments, he pirates a fast-slow-fast cinematic pace to scroll across the pallid landscape, showing Ledda arrive confusedly at his destination. These scenes must have whispered “creative copyright infringement” into David Fincher’s ears. They seem at home in a teeming mix of stereotypes.
After offing a whimpering father, Ledda is next assigned to plug a bullet into the nearly cute and fully freckled face of a 12-year-old girl. The senile assassin fails to complete the mission, instead opting for nights spent in Scandinavian bed sheets with a pseudo-Scandinavian woman (Euro trash-bleached hair and all).
Despite his sweaty efforts at avoiding the task at hand, the young girl eventually meets her faith, appearing shore-side in Laura Palmer’s makeup. (If you don’t understand the “Twin Peaks” reference, apologize to David Lynch himself when he visits next Friday.)
The murder leaves Ledda outraged, not to mention targeted. The labyrinthine plot which follows spends the next 90 minutes unspooling its various boring angles. It involves a dysfunctional family past, brought to our unriveted attention through black-and-white photos and muddy anecdotes. The story even weaves in a weak government conspiracy, one that bravely involves unattractive politicians whining in baroque drawing rooms.
The dialogue slowly devolves into B-movie action banter: “This can’t be, you’re dead!” Pause. “No, you’re dead.” Bang!
The worst outcome of the young girl’s murder, other than the murder of a 12-year-old girl, is the onslaught of detectives it garners. In stroll Vincke (a brooding Koen de Bouw) and Freddy (a perky Werner de Smedt). They have a surprisingly fluid dynamic — effortlessly exchanging transparent jokes about urinating on BMWs — but are too obviously an “Odd Couple.” Vincke’s wooden demeanor seems borrowed from a forgotten cologne commercial, and Freddy’s 30-something Stiffler is all too familiar.
The static duo embark on a mission to find Ledda. After a series of clues lead them to him, Vincke and Freddy play a drawn-out game of cat-and-mouse with the aging assassin. There are plenty of crime scenes and detectives in glossy leather jackets, more than a few closely cropped “CSI” scenes, and entirely too many buddy-cop one-liners. The impending finale would be a let-down if there were any first-half standards to be demoted from.
And yet despite all of its derivative drivel, there’s something inherently interesting about “The Memory of a Killer.” While the language and locales are undeniably exotic, it has a pervasive air of familiarity that can be attributed to one, and only one, thing: The Ashley Judd archetype. It would be hard to resist if you were on an airplane, in the right mood, and had no expectations.
“The Memory of a Killer” sadly showcases the cultural impact of globalization. Have Europeans shrugged off the concept of artful “foreign films” in exchange for half-stylized blockbuster-ready crassness? It would be a sad demise to witness, especially when “Kiss the Girls” and “American Pie” are consulted for character inspiration.