In the ''Lethal Weapon" movies, Danny Glover famously complained that he was too old to be running around with hotheaded Mel Gibson and too tired for all the shootouts, bombings, and corruption. The protagonist in ''Memory of a Killer," an entertaining new crime procedural from Belgium, could file a similar complaint.
Like Glover's crusty cop, Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir) wants to retire, only he's on the other side of the law, having spent his life as a killer for hire. And now it seems he's gone a little senile, too, having to record vital information (hotel room numbers, aliases) on the inside of his forearm.
Reluctantly, Angelo accepts one last job that takes him from Marseilles back to his native Antwerp, which he loathes. There the movie turns violent, but director and co-writer Erik Van Looy slyly incorporates a sense of panache.
Angelo is a silver fox of sorts, a dapper senior who happens to work a grisly job. There's nothing wrong with his manners, however. At a hotel bar, he lights a woman's cigarette then pummels the creep who insults her line of work. ''A gentleman," she exclaims, by way of thanks. ''No," Angelo says, looking into his immediate future, ''a client."
Angelo is ruthless, but he does have standards. Shooting 12-year-old ex-hookers, for instance, is out of the question. His refusal leaves his more ruthless employers miffed enough to try to blow him up. Suddenly, the entire assignment hits a snag. But the betrayal affronts Angelo's integrity, and he finds himself killing his way to the top of a government scandal.
Half the film is spent with the detectives trying to figure out what's going on. Once in a while, Angelo checks in with taunts and tips. Boys, he basically says, I'm doing your jobs for you.
Along with Carl Joos, Van Looy adapted the script from a novel by Jef Geeraerts, and the movie they've produced is an agile chase picture. It's easy to imagine another movie playing Angelo's failing memory for comedy. ''Memory of a Killer," which also goes by the name ''The Alzheimer's Case," doesn't exploit its protagonist's flagging mental health. The movie gingerly builds suspense around the illness. The pills he takes are intended to keep his mind clear, but the more running he does the tougher it is to stay on the schedule.
As the man doing the running, killing, and seducing, Decleir is intense and surprisingly fleet. Angelo knows he's too old to carry on this way, yet a roguish lifestyle dangerously exhilarates him. To this end, I suppose he has a lot in common with Danny Glover and Mel Gibson.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.