Lucy

Posted: September 3, 2014 in Film reviews
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Directed by Luc Besson. Starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman.

A young American student named Lucy is in Taiwan, ostensibly studying but mainly partying. She’s been dating a man named Richard for a week and doesn’t trust him when he asks her to deliver a briefcase to a businessman. After he tricks her into delivering the case her fears are proven correct as Richard is gunned down in front of her and it turns out the businessman is a gangster named Mr Jang.

The suitcase contained four packets of blue powder, a new drug that Mr Jang is exporting to Europe. Now his prisoner, Lucy, along with three others, has a bag of the drug sewn into her stomach and the plan is to use her as a mule to smuggle the drugs into Europe.

Before she can be put on a plane however one of Jang’s henchmen kicks her in the stomach, rupturing the bag. A massive overdose of the drug doesn’t kill Lucy though, instead it works on her brain, forging new connections and allowing her to access more than the 10% we (apparently) use.

Overpowering her guards she heads for Europe on the trail of the remaining three bags of drugs, but as her powers grow exponentially, and she begins to use an increasing percentage of her brain, the question becomes; what happens when she hits 100%?

Luc Besson + Scarlett Johansson, a film that marries high octane action with existential thought, Lucy should be absolutely great. Unfortunately it isn’t.

The film starts well, with Johansson doing a bang up job as the terrified girl completely out of her depth surrounded by men who really don’t care if she lives or dies. Unfortunately as her brain power increases, my interest decreased in direct correlation.

Part of the problem is that Lucy becomes too powerful too quickly, and whilst her initial scenes kicking arse are fun, as she becomes more and more adept at using her powers the drama ekes out of the story. Suddenly she can change her hair colour just by thinking about it, and control TVs, computers and mobile phones, and she can render people unconscious with the flick of her wrist, so any time someone pulls a gun you don’t worry because there’s no way to harm her.

It’s hard to decide what kind of film Besson thinks he’s making but I think it boils down to “a film that isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is.” Using stock footage of animals being stalked, or mating to highlight what’s going on the film isn’t a terrible idea, but given the film has a sparse runtime anyway you do have to consider how much of the film is either lifted from National Geographic documentaries, or just involves Morgan Freeman spouting reams of exposition whilst some pretty pictures go by.

Some of the action set pieces are good, and the car chase through Paris is well put together, even if it’s essentially pointless, and this does at least show that Besson still has an eye for action. Johansson has proven herself a more than capable screen presence this year alone with both Captain America 2 and Under the Skin providing excellent showcases of her abilities, and she undeniably looks good in high heels wielding two guns, and she plays both the terror stricken young woman, and the superior, almost alien, woman equally well, the trouble is she doesn’t have enough to get her teeth into. She had more action in Captain America 2, and as the lead in Under the Skin she portrayed an emotionless superior being, yes, but one that showed glimpses of something else beneath, whereas with Lucy all she’s required to do is surface.

By the time the film enters its final third Besson proves he’s watched 2001 and Altered States as he takes Lucy on a metaphysical journey through time and space before he cribs from the Lawnmower Man and leaves Morgan Freeman holding the world’s least convincing looking USB stick…

A good director and a great star can’t rescue a film that’s short on ideas, and short on minutes to expound on them. As a more straightforward action film, or a more cerebral thriller it might have worked. Instead it falls between two stools and cracks its head open on the floor. And don’t even get me started on the “we only use 10% of our brain” malarkey.

It’s not terrible but if you want to watch a popcorn film about what happens when the human mind is expanded then I’d suggest you watch Bradley Cooper in Limitless. It’s not a great film, but it’s better than Lucy.

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