Release: Friday, July 25, 2014
While it’s true this outing is a step up from last year’s The Family, with director Luc Besson even seeming willing to dip his toes into deeper waters as far as interesting concepts are concerned, we are, unfortunately, still not operating at 100% yet.
It might seem dismissive to rule this summer’s latest sci-fi obsession guilty of association based on who’s directing it (a man whose last effort found Robert DeNiro and Tommy Lee Jones competing to see who could look more disinterested in being involved), but at the same time it’s also clear that there has got to be some kind of three-strike rule in place for at least this reviewer. There’s only so many times one can go to a film expecting the worst, then receiving pretty much just that and then going to do it all over again another time, hoping for something different.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that’s the definition of insanity.
Even the great Morgan Freeman can be heard stumbling over a few awkward lines of dialogue at some of the worst times possible. An image of humanity rendered without a brain as powerful as the one it’s been given is a compelling one, but this actual idea is realized as much as the concept car you ogle over in magazines and faux advertisements is ready for the general public.
Uhh. . .it isn’t.
One is left at the end credits with the nagging thought that if anyone else had gotten into the driver’s seat of this car, maybe we might have gone to some truly cool places. While it is at times undeniably fun, Lucy fails to engage on a more significant level as it trades out far too much potential in exchange for the quick and easy thrill, a la mainstream Hollywood. In fact there is so much left to be desired at the time of the flaccid conclusion we wonder if there was anything here that didn’t go to waste.
Well, there’s the central character for one. Scarlett Johansson’s casting indeed becomes the film’s saving grace. She instantly affords Besson and his oft intentionally-stilted screenplay a level of gravitas that helps this story gain traction as it plods ever forward, simultaneously with purpose and without any at all. Lucy is a young woman with not much of an identity seen in the film’s open getting wrangled into a drug deal she never wanted to be a part of. Now handcuffed to a briefcase containing who-knows-what, she’s wrestled into a den of some threatening-looking Asians, led by Min-sik Choi’s mean old Mr. Jang. At such time she’s informed she’s now a drug mule for them, and is subsequently sent out to board a plane for somewhere else in the world. Poor girl. Or is she?
Lucy’s intellectual journey begins quiet, innocuously, as she first sets about finding out what has happened to her. After awakening in a hotel room with a bandaged abdomen and being told she’s carrying a pouch of an extremely potent substance, she makes moves quickly to rid herself of the package. The contents of the bag are a synthesized form of the natural chemicals found in a pregnant woman during late stages of her pregnancy. Their power’s asserted to be the necessary boost that helps form bone structure in the yet-to-be-born child. Needless to say, if this drug (labeled CPH-4 in the film) can do that to an infant, what would a quadruple dose do a fully-grown person?
This is going to be, annoyingly, as confronting and as experimental as the material ever feels like becoming. Instead of detailing all of the ways in which someone’s life could be enhanced — and perhaps just as compellingly, how it might be devalued, even destroyed — by the power of being able to access 100% of one’s brain power and an ever-expanding ocean of information, we get surface-level glimpses at what Besson thinks could happen, you know. . .theoretically.
There are, admittedly, a few drool-worthy visual sequences: Lucy physically manipulating radio and electromagnetic waves to suit her needs; her ability to multitask is on a level most Bluetooth-wearing businessmen would be sorely jealous of; and then there’s the traveling through time and space as a means of exploring what we are meant to be doing here on Earth (if anything at all). To reiterate, its all eye candy for the sake of providing action sequences that immediately yank us out of an intellectual discussion and into a pseudo-summer blockbuster.
Lucy is also guilty of devolving into a somewhat plodding affair. It oftentimes holds all of the enthusiasm of a tenured history professor dragging his students through another 8 A.M. lecture. Ironically enough, this is the very character Morgan Freeman has been hired to play. Professor Norman is first seen speaking extremely National Geographic-narratively to an audience of some nondescript understanding about the fact that people only are typically able to use 10% of their brain function. He stands there apologetically, regurgitating a script that begs us to ponder what we might be able to do if we just used all of our brain. The character, despite Freeman’s unyielding watchability, is a complete cardboard cutout of a layman pondering the true depth of the thinking man’s soul. I’m not going to feign pretense here — the movie is too stupid to be taken seriously.
Norman isn’t the problem, it’s Besson’s handling of what could have been an incredibly inspiring premise. For the second time in a row (that I have seen, anyway), Besson has taken a solid concept and fumbled it at the eleventh hour. Lucy, poised to become a modern sci-fi mind-bender, exists now as a crowd-pleasing slice of mainstream Hollywood entertainment, which should be taken as no insult. But it’s a significant step down from the thought-provoking journey into the essence of what it means to be human — something that this excellent performance from Johansson more often than not hints at.
Recommendation: Starpower and an interesting premise unite to dupe audiences into watching a very run-of-the-mill action flick featuring some awe-inspiring visuals and a brief period of hectic violence. Lucy is not what is advertised, but unfortunately that was something that might have been foretold by the names of those involved behind the camera. I’d recommend this film on the basis of Johansson but not much else. There are some truly impressive moments but not enough of them carry through to warrant the kind of Roger Ebert two thumbs-up that I was looking to give here.
Running Time: 90 mins.
Quoted: “We never really die.”
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