Jean Beaudin’s “Memories Unlocked,” the helmer’s first feature since the acclaimed 1992 “Being at Home With Claude,” is one of the more eagerly anticipated Canuck films of the year, but proves to be a major stumble for the seasoned Montreal filmmaker. The film is an odd mix of telepic melodrama, hackneyed thriller elements and hard-to-believe plot twists whose strong perfs can’t salvage the subpar material. Met with downbeat reviews upon its world preem at Montreal, pic opened Aug. 28 on one screen in the city to less-than-stellar results. Set for wider release in Quebec Sept. 10, “Memories” is unlikely to make much of a mark in Canada, with international prospects even slimmer.
Max (James Hyndman) is a painter who has lost the use of his legs, but he still manages to enjoy life thanks to a close-knit group of friends, many of whom regularly hang out at his designer loft. One of his best pals is a young guy, Laurel (Pierre-Luc Brillant), who has just discovered his birth mother via the Web and is anxious to become pals with her, much to the dismay of his adoptive mother, Pauline (Louise Portal). Max’s gang of pals is rounded out by egocentric sculptor Mortimer (Yves Jacques), slightly backward Julius (Michel Charette) and the beautiful Maggie (Jacynthe Rene), who models in the nude for Max.
Everything is going swimmingly for Max and Co. when a ghost from his troubled past returns to haunt him in the form of Lucie (Pascale Bussieres), who telephones late one night and starts purring “Lady Sings the Blues.” It quickly becomes clear that something nasty tore apart Max and Lucie’s relationship, and he becomes increasingly disturbed by her nightly calls. She torments him with X-rated talk, makes fun of his crippled state and — in a nod to “Rear Window” — has sex with another man in a window across the street as Max looks on from his wheelchair.
One of the yarn’s weaknesses is the way in which the Lucie-Max confrontation is linked with Laurel’s quest for his mom; the connection is too far-fetched to swallow. Beaudin and novelist Monique Proulx have constructed a screenplay that overly relies upon unlikely coincidences, fails to give depth to any of the characters and wastes time on cardboard cut-out characters like Julius and Maggie. The forced happy ending serves only to highlight the narrative bumps that preceded it. Richard Gregoire’s heavy-handed score doesn’t help matters, with a schizophrenic mix of portentous orchestration and middle-of-the-road jazz.
Perfs, however, are generally strong. Hyndman adds an air of mystery to Max, and Bussieres is particularly striking in a role that takes her far from her usual ethereal characters. Jacques is also good as self-aggrandizing womanizer Mortimer.