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Review: Lucy (2014)

Lucy (2014)

Directed by: Luc Besson

Premise: A woman (Scarlett Johansson) is forced to smuggle a synthetic drug surgically implanted in her body by gangsters. When the substance leaks into her system she acquires superpowers and takes on the mob.

What Works: Lucy is an example of writer and director Luc Besson doing what he does well and the film is a mix of familiar elements from Besson’s previous movies like Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element. More recently Besson has been farming out his work, writing and producing films like 3 Days to Kill and Taken while leaving the directing duties to his protégés. It’s nice to see the filmmaker return to the director’s chair. Compared to many of Besson’s sponsored projects, Lucy has a more polished and slicker look. The chases and shootouts have style and energy, more so than a lot of the set pieces in recent adventure movies. Lucy also features a lot of unique visuals, such as non-diegetic insert shots of animals that are intercut into the opening scene. These kinds of unexpected flourishes make Lucy unique and distinguish it from just another shoot-‘em-up movie. The other notable aspect of Lucy is its ambition. The story rests on the urban myth that people only use ten percent of their brains and Scarlett Johansson’s character ingests a drug that unlocks the remaining ninety percent, giving her superhuman abilities. To their credit, the filmmakers do much more than just turn the title character into an action hero. The very nature of Lucy’s existence is changed and as she progresses through this movie, she transcends her humanity and sees her life, the world, and eventually the universe with a new consciousness. The filmmakers aspire to the grandness and complexity of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; Lucy doesn’t get there—it’s not even to the level of the Wachowski’s flawed but similarly ambitious Cloud Atlas—but the filmmakers do at least manage to give the audience something unexpected and off-the-chain weird and in a motion picture marketplace that is so homogenized and risk adverse the creativity and audacity of Lucy is admirable.

What Doesn’t: Lucy is a strange viewing experience because it is simultaneously ambitious and stupid. The conceit of the story is silly; the sci-fi cliché that humans only use ten percent of their brains is not true. But leaving that aside, Lucy makes very little sense. Some of its problems are logical storytelling flaws. Luc Besson’s adventure movies tend to leap all over the globe and the geography of Lucy is distractingly random with characters jetting from one country to another apparently at light speed. In many cases characters leap to conclusions and appear in places for no reason, especially the villains who have an uncanny knack for tracking down the heroine even when there is no credible reason for them to know where she is. Even more absurd are Lucy’s powers. There are plenty of superhero movies in which characters have equivalent abilities but there is usually an internal logic that controls and defines them; even Superman has limitations. In Lucy there is no consistency. In one scene she undergoes surgery without an anesthetic but feels no pain while simultaneously admitting that she feels everything, even the physical sensations of distant memories. Lucy’s invincibility undermines the drama; she is so unstoppable that none of the bad guys pose a credible threat. The filmmakers’ attempts to be profound also come up short; the movie is not intended to be an academic exercise but Lucy is full of pseudo-intellectual twaddle that not even Morgan Freeman’s narration can make convincing.

Bottom Line: Lucy is not a great movie but it’s so weird and executed with such energy and creativity that it mostly overcomes the flaws of its storytelling and its many lapses in credibility. Lucy may befuddle mainstream audiences and annoy serious science fiction viewers but it’s also poised to amass a cult following.

Episode: #502 (August 3, 2014)