Thursday, July 24, 2014

Movie Review: Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson

Luc Besson's return to directing piles action on top of flawed science and a flimsy storyline.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 24, 2014 at 1:36 PM

click to enlarge lucy-scarlett-johansson-picture.jpg

It’s fitting that the central factoid underpinning Luc Besson’s Lucy — that humans only use 10 percent of their brains — is false. This is, after all, a movie that’s completely full of shit. Besson is the French director who made 1990’s La Femme Nikita and 1997’s memorable (though kind of loopy) The Fifth Element, both touchstones. The former was a taut thriller with a great performance by Anne Parillaud, the latter a sci-fi epic featuring Milla Jovovich wrapped in John Paul Gaultier-designed band-aids masquerading as clothes and inspiring many a young man’s fantasies.

Lucy wants to fit somewhere in the middle of this continuum, never going off the George Lucas deep end like Element, while also never approaching the gritty realism of Nikita. It stars Scarlett Johansson in full-on sexy robot mode, and represents a big return to the stage for Besson after years as a prolific producer (most notably the Transporter series). Though Lucy reaches for an epic sound and light show with echoes of Kubick’s 2001 to The Matrix movies, the absurdity of the underlying plot (along with cheesy CGI effects in spots) had me giggling when I should have been awestruck.

A convoluted series of events — involving both a treacherous new boyfriend and an international drug cartel — leads Lucy (Johansson) to ingest a huge amount of an experimental drug in a grisly way I’ll let you discover for yourself. Once in her bloodsteam, the chemical triggers a rapid increase in her ability to access her own mind. The movie marks her progress with big title cards — 10%, 20%, etc. — and the higher the numbers climb, the greater Lucy’s abilities.

As Lucy starts speaking foreign languages and tapping into cellphone communications, she seeks out the world’s foremost expert on the higher functions of the brain (Morgan Freeman, in full Through the Wormhole mode), all the while being pursued by the aforementioned international drug cartel. One would think that the cartel guys would cease to be much of a threat around the time that Lucy gains the ability to knock people unconscious with the wave of her hand, but somehow they keep getting closer and more dangerous.

Johansson seems game for this nonsense, strutting through action scenes in a killer black dress and doing the requisite “look, I’m turning into a supercomputer” acting moves (head tilt, slowed speech, lack of blinking) that scream either “cyborg” or “drunk guy at DUI checkpoint.” It’s too bad that the movie around her is a Eurotrash nightmare full of silly gun battles and pointless special effects sequences. It all leads to a grand climax that means … nothing much at all.

Lucy has a lot in common with the Johnny Depp flop Transcendence from earlier this year, in that both films are about people who utilizes technology to evolve beyond the rest of the human race. Transcendence was sterile and boring. Lucy is never a snoozer, but jacking the energy and visual flair up to 11 can’t cover for the lack of meaningful characters or a coherent story. As it stands, Lucy is just your average no-brainer.

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