Poetic, romantic, and tied together by a crippling event of violence, "Remember Me" aches to be absorbed as a drama of substance and lasting impact. However, it's dour, hysterical sudser that never lifts off the ground, no matter how hard it flaps its wings with sequences of nicotine-stained rebellion, cycles of abuse, and bootleg turns of fate. Compassionate but never assured, "Remember Me" is perhaps best appreciated for Robert Pattinson, who steps away from the ghostly make-up, dead air bother, and diamond skin (the hair remains) to portray a plausibly disturbed young man on his way to an emotional breakdown.
Tyler Hawkins (Robert Pattinson) is facing a broken family of divorce brought on by the suicide of his older brother, at odds with his estranged father, Charles (Pierce Brosnan). A testy guy with anger issues, Tyler finds himself butting up against Sgt. Neil Craig (Chris Cooper) after an alley fistfight, which leaves the brawler with a few bruises and a wounded ego. At the urging of his nitwit roommate (a deplorably obnoxious Tate Ellington), Tyler resolves to seduce Neil's daughter Ally (Emilie de Ravin) as an act of retribution. Finding a common ground of personal tragedy after Ally reveals the horror of witnessing her mother's murder a decade earlier, the two develop a relationship, which frustrates Neil and positions Tyler into a precarious state of vulnerability.
"Remember Me" doesn't employ a novel as source material, but the film feels pulled from a sprawling literary accomplishment. Screenwriter Will Fetters bites off more than he can chew here, imagining a wealth of characters brooding around the frame, each one of them in some sort of mental stasis that blocks basic communication. It extends beyond Tyler and Ally to Charles (who rudely rebuffs his family's invitations to bond), Tyler's little sister Caroline (a bullied 6th grade artist), Neil (a tough cop facing the blossoming sexuality and independence of his one and only daughter), and Tyler's mother Diane (an overtly sensitive soul played by Lena Olin).
There's a lot of intricate emotional baggage to sort through for a film that runs under two hours, leaving director Allen Coulter ("Hollywoodland") scrambling to piece together a grandiose statement of discontent while fabricating an exploitable romance between Tyler and Ally, who've stumbled into a tenuous commitment neither soul is prepared for. For the first half, Coulter shapes a digestible treatment of manipulation as Tyler moves to sweep Ally off her feet, only halfway interested in revenge once he detects the throbbing hurt that remains inside of her. While Coulter and Fetters make the plastic choice of rebellion, fashioning Tyler as a smoker, drinker, and journal-writer, the burned-out interior of the character is well taken care of, offered a few choice moments of reflection in Pattinson's affected performance.
The conflicts are cliché, and Coulter gives in to melodramatic temptation by having the characters lash out in illogical ways to grasp larger declarations of duress. If there was any opportunity for "Remember Me" to comfortably land a searing tone of self-examination, it was lost once domestic abuse pops in for a visit and Tyler starts hurling fire extinguishers to make a tough guy impression. The film has one too many notes of absurdity to properly communicate the general unraveling going on here, taking the easy route of hysteria over challenging the audience with actions far more representative of the turmoil at hand. Most of this cast, and their awful NYC accents, can't express the weight without flailing about in some crude, indicative manner.
"Remember Me" builds to a reckless twist conclusion, less about overt suspense and satisfying payoff, and more about the poetic cruelty of fate. Centered on an event in recent American history, the script includes a whopper of a conclusion that aims to place a definitive point of misfortune on the story, but ends up trivializing an unspeakable situation. The finale is a bad taste eye-popper, asking the audience to process a dramatic swell in scope the rest of the tale doesn't merit. "Remember Me" is best low to the ground, modestly picking apart neuroses and grief. Taking matters to pointlessly epic proportions only reinforces just how anemic the rest of the picture is.