Lucy Review

(2.5 STARS)

Lucy is a puzzling film insofar as it’s both fantastically inspired and utter garbage, and it’s really hard to tell where the two opposing qualities begin and end. On the one hand, director Luc Besson imbues the film with an energy heretofore untapped in science-fiction films that don’t have the word “Star” in their titles. And unlike those space-set shoot-em-ups, Lucy and Besson couldn’t give two licks about action in the traditional cinematic sense of the word. There’s a lot of exciting stuff in the film, and the bare-bones way it moves characters from here to there is sometimes action-like, but this is a piece of art driven almost exclusively by ideas and characters.

All that said, it’s also mind-numbingly stupid at times. It gets away with (or attempts to get away with) its most egregious leaps in logic by making its lead character a genetic anomaly. “No, it’s not stupid,” a proponent of the film might argue. “We just don’t know what would happen to a person like Lucy.” Yeah, OK. All I know is that the smarter (or more informed) Lucy gets, the dumber Lucy gets.

So what is going on with this woman? Played rather spectacularly by Scarlett Johansson, Lucy is a seemingly normal young woman studying abroad in Taiwan. Her boyfriend, Richard (Pilou Asbæk of A Hijacking), betrays her in the offing by handcuffing her to a case he’s supposed to deliver to a gangster, Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi). This man is far from sympathetic to Lucy’s sudden peril and assigns her a task—deliver a packet of new synthetic drugs (surgically embedded in Lucy’s stomach) to a European buyer.

Things begin to go haywire when she’s assaulted by some of Jang’s lackeys. A kick to the stomach rips the drug bag open and sends its contents screaming through Lucy’s blood stream. Suddenly, she’s more focused and powerful. She secures freedom, but this freedom isn’t without its costs. The drug that’s taken her over will kill her—and soon—but not before she develops the ability to access 100% of her brain’s capacity, rather than the 10% all other humans use.

The 10% theory is explained by a Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) during the film’s deliberately hilarious first-act exposition. Besson cuts between a lecture the professor is giving in Paris and (non-graphic) animal intercourse among other wildly off-topic subjects. It’s energetic and loads of fun, but it’s totally absurd. Forget for a minute the idea that this man is seriously positing to a group of serious-minded individuals what might happen if a superhuman ever showed up JUST BEFORE A SUPERHUMAN SHOWS UP. No, it’s the meat and potatoes of his theories that hold the film back. If anything, we learn too much about the premise and Lucy’s rapidly changing mental makeup. Glossing over that stuff and making Lucy about the beginning, the end, and the ride would have probably made for a more satisfying motion picture overall.

Johansson, though, does her director a great service. She saves the movie from total mediocrity by giving a performance that’s equal parts zombie and three-dimensional young woman. Lucy the scared student will break your heart. She doesn’t want to be tangled up with any of these people, but she’s naive and reckless when we meet her, and those qualities ultimately doom her to this fate. When she realizes exactly what’s in store for her, she’s at her most emotionally vulnerable. Then, it’s beast mode for 45 minutes and we all get the Black Widow movie we’ve been waiting for. There’s range to what she’s doing even if it doesn’t seem like it at first glance, and she plays extraordinarily well off her own persona as a mega-celebrity. Coupled with career-defining work in Under the Skin earlier this year, she just might be in the midst of her own version of the McConaissance (a Johannaissance?)

Lucy also benefits from Besson’s hyper-economical choices. There isn’t a wasted scene in the entire movie, nor does he write a line, make a cut, or choose a shot that doesn’t add something to the whole. If the film isn’t being funny, it’s developing a character. If it isn’t depicting bloody satisfying revenge, it’s attempting to blow our minds with advanced theories of evolution and time travel. Again, not all of this actually works, but the effort, the ambition, and the originality are all more than commendable. Lucy is imperfect, but it’s the only time I sat speechless in a theater this year after a cut to black.

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