Tuesday, 5 August 2014

[Review] Lucy

Right from the offset, Luc Besson's Lucy poses a central question to its audience. "Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?." Ninety minutes later and we get to the completely unearned answer "Now you know what to do with it." Wrong. After ninety minutes of absurdity, I don't even think the filmmakers know the answer to that central question, let alone the audience watching.

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a wayward American party girl visiting Taipei. There, she finds herself mixed up with the wrong crowd as she crosses paths with Korean mob boss Mr. Jang (Choi-Min Sik). Jang forces her to act as a drug mule by inserting a bag of a formulated synthetic drug known as CPH4 into her abdomen, a new powerful drug that the mob plan to distribute across Europe.

However, after a savage beating, the bag inside her bursts and the contents of the drug seep out and mix with her central nerve system. The side effects of the drug unlock the full potential of her brain mass, thus transforming her from a ditzy party girl into a super-genius killer. Lucy becomes determined to rain justice down on the mob who wronged her, whilst also passing along her new-found intelligence to Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman). But as Lucy's brain capacity continues to increase, she discovers that the world isn't quite what it seems as she develops superhuman capabilities, allowing her to bend the rules of time, space and physics at will.

So yeah, as if you couldn't tell by reading that plot synopsis, it's absolutely bonkers. Also, not exactly the most original premise either. After all, just a few months back we had the similarly dopey and misguided Transcendence covering familiar territory. But the biggest difference between Lucy and Transcendence is that the former has aspirations of being a straight up B-movie mixed with pseudo art-house pretensions while the latter only had the aspiration to take a B-movie concept and turn it into a dull and dreary art-house movie. For as absurdly dumb as the premise may-be, at least Lucy has enough wisdom to play to its B-movie strengths, sort of making up for its many shortcomings.

The biggest problem that plagues Lucy is two-fold. The first being that it is a complete mishmash of big ideas that never really come together in any meaningful way. Luc Besson throws everything at the wall here in hope that something will stick. Be it the birth of humanity, or intercutting National Geographic footage of wild animals hunting to emphasize plot points already abundantly clear, or at one point evoking the imagery of Michalengelo's famous painting ' The Creation of Adam,' even going right down to a pure moment of metaphysical transcendence.

Funnily enough, in Luc Besson's original script, he describes his intentions with a simplified summary. For him, the movie is one part Leon: The Professional (to which it achieves successfully), another part Inception and a third part 2001: A Space Odyssey. The only difference between Lucy and at least two of those films is that Lucy winds up being about as deep as a puddle.

The second problem being that there just isn't much in the way of character development to make us invest in Lucy's plight. Sure, there is an overabundance of plot and big ideas, but once Lucy is exposed to the drug, her character becomes about as dry and invincible as the T100 from Terminator.

Much of Lucy's plight centers around the lynchpin of watching her intelligence climb from a paltry 0.1% to 100%. But it might as well just be the equivalent of character upgrades in a video game as with every new percentage of her brain power unlocked, she unlocks a new special ability that helps to make her one with the universe. To her credit though, even if her character remains emotionally impenetrable, Scarlett Johansson proves herself quite capable of playing the uber-sexy yet stoic femme fatale none the less. Furthermore, she does a fine job of selling what is otherwise sometimes rubbish material.

Meanwhile, in the background of all of this pseudo-philosophical mumbo jumbo, you also have the Korean gangsters hunting down Lucy. Spearheaded by the always fantastic Korean actor Choi-Min Sik (best known for Oldboy) who plays it with straight intimidating menace. Also, you have the exposition machine himself, Morgan Freeman, to help fill in the plot when needed. Freeman is less a character and more-so the narrator.

Despite an interesting if not preposterous setup involving the myth that a human uses only 10% of their brain capacity, once the action moves out of Taipei and into the middle of Europe, it then dissolves into one long chase sequence after another. Granted, Besson is quite adept at shooting thrilling chase sequences and for the most part he delivers perfectly fine on that promise. But ultimately it all rings hollow as Lucy herself is virtually indestructible. Alas, there is no weight, tension or threat to be had in these scenes as we always know that Lucy will come out on the other side unscathed.

Quite frankly, Lucy is rubbish if not absurdly entertaining rubbish. Despite its grand intentions, the film doesn't add up to much of anything at all. At best, you could almost consider it the unofficial prequel to another Scarlett Johansson Sci-Fi vehicle, Her. But sad to say, that's about it. To put any actual thought into it is to do it a service for which it does not deserve. With that said, at least it doesn't fall into the same pitfalls as Transcendence, and at the very least it is somewhat enjoyable in an entirely dopey manner.

(out of five)

-Daniel M



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