Lucy (2014) / Action-Aci Fi

MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality
Running Time: 90 min.

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbaek, Analeigh Tipton
Director: Luc Besson
Screenplay: Luc Besson

Review published July 26, 2014

French filmmaker Luc Besson (The Family, Brick Mansions) writes and directs Lucy, a loopy, high-concept science fiction thriller that, like most Besson efforts, is actually just a dumb and goofy action genre film masquerading as a smart and insightful one.  The science in this film is absolute bunk, not only pushing forward the often misinformed notion that human beings only use 10% of their brain's capacity in their lifetimes, but positing that, with increased brain usage, we increase the ability to control and transform matter around us.  At the point you see the title character change the length and color of her hair and add make-up just by thinking about it, you know this is a film not even trying to adhere to any legitimate scientific theory.

In the film, Lucy (Johansson, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) is abducted by a gang of Asian baddies, led by the nefarious Mr. Jang (Min-sik, Oldboy), who aim to use her as one of their 'mules' to smuggle their uber-potent drug called CPH4 to other territories around the world.  Surgically hidden in her lower abdomen, the drug's container is ruptured and the contents released in a massive dosage when she takes a beating at the hands of her captors.  The drug's ability to unlock the other 90% of her mind gives Lucy newfound ability to remember, sense, and control the world around her.  After consuming the entirety of the work of Professor Norman (Freeman, The LEGO Movie), the leading neuroscientist in the field of untapping brain's amazing latent powers, she pays him a visit to harness these new energies.  But the bad guys are anxious to snuff her out, as she is trying to steal out the drug from the other mules in order to feed her mind with newer and more powerful abilities.

While the plausibility factor is low, Besson does deliver on putting together some clever montages from time to time, marrying some impressive special effects with the gripping score by Eric Serra (Bandidas, Bulletproof Monk) to form a few moments that manage to come close to making Lucy the kind of mind-blowing experience he probably had intended it to be from conception.  It's not The Matrix or 2001: A Space Odyssey, but with a more well-thought out concept behind it, it looks like it could be.  Unfortunately, the problem with the film is that eventually characters have to talk, and it's in those moments of human interaction that shows how limited he is as a writer.

Despite his lack of prowess at writing great characters or dialogue, Besson is pretty good at car chases and shoot-outs, and Lucy gives us quite a bit of that, so for action junkies, this will likely hit the spot just right.  If you've followed Besson's career, you'll see many of his staples -- the choreographed bad guys who are always chasing the protagonist around, the conflicted anti-hero protector who looks out for the main female, kidnappings, manipulations, quick-cuts, and high fashion.  While the subject matter goes into new territory for the filmmaker, it's all built on the usual Besson template of film plotting and aesthetic.

Scarlett Johansson does a relatively decent job holding down the character, even though there's not much from the written page to work with.  Her persona becomes more 'thinky' and less 'feely' as the film progresses, which does make her increasingly less relatable (which is probably intentional), which does echo somewhat her character in the lower budget sci-fi release Under the Skin earlier in the year, along with the ever-more-knowledgeable Samantha in Her.

2014 has already given us a similar premise of a relatively ordinary human developing god-like powers of omniscience and near omnipotence in Transcendence, a film that Lucy has many conceptual similarities to, including the casting of Morgan Freeman in a supporting role.  Lucy is the more fun and successful of the two, mostly for Besson's ability to understand his limitations in terms of what he can achieve as a filmmaker, and his knowledge of how to construct his films to appeal to a worldwide audience.

While it isn't as good as Besson's earlier works like La Femme Nikita and The Professional/Leon, Lucy is a step in a better direction for the stylish filmmaker, who has struggled mightily, despite a plethora of efforts as screenwriter and producer, to break through with another big hit since The Fifth Element in the last two decades.  Even if it isn't 10% of the capacity to be an intelligent sci-fi thriller, it's an above-par action and special effects movie, so if you go into it expecting no more than that, it will deliver the goods in no short supply.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo