Scarlett Johansson as Lucy
Morgan Freeman as Professor Norman
Min-sik Choi as Mr. Jang
Amr Waked as Pierre Del Rio
Julian Rhind-Tutt as The Limey
Pilou Asbæk as Richard
Analeigh Tipton as Caroline
Jan Oliver Schroeder as French Mule
Luca Angeletti as Italian Mule
Directed by Luc Besson
Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), an American woman living in China, is tricked by her boyfriend Richard into getting involved with the Chinese mob who uses her as an unwitting mule for a super-drug that enhances one’s mind. When the bag of drugs leaks inside her, Lucy finds herself able to access normally unused parts of her brain to try and survive and get revenge on those responsible.
French filmmaker Luc Besson is generally known for his unrepentantly violent action movies, often featuring women who kick ass, and “Lucy” combines these two mainstays with a premise based in some degree of science fact. Granted, it’s a bit of a stretch for Besson to be doing anything close to intellectual science-based fiction considering how campy and silly some of his previous efforts have been (Case in point: “The Fifth Element”). This alone may make it hard for some to accept Besson’s latest effort because it states that we only access 10% of our brain–not true–and what he suggest might happen if we use 100% of our brain often verges on the ridiculous.
But “Lucy” starts out all right, much like the Asian crime films that have been such a big influence on Besson’s later work, with Scarlet Johansson’s title character being duped into bringing a sealed briefcase to a Chinese crimelord. Lucy–the fact we never learn her surname is a running gag throughout the movie–isn’t the sharpest, but she doesn’t trust her boyfriend and for good reason as she’s been sent into a trap. These early scenes offer a good deal of tension, since you’re not quite sure what is going on or what’s in the mysterious case–revealed in a way as suspenseful as NOT learning what’s in the case in Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” This set-up offers the first of some great scenes with Korean star Choi-Min Sik (“Old Boy”) as the main baddie, Mr. Jang, which leads straight into the film’s high concept idea of a drug mule operation gone wrong and a woman using the powers she gains from her poisoning to try to survive and get revenge – think “Maria Full of Grace” meets “DOA.”
Taking place in two of Besson’s favorite locales, China and Paris, “Lucy” tries to blend his usual car chases and shoot em ups with intellectual scientific theories, but it feels like Besson is reaching and never quite achieves a good blend of the two disparate ideas.
The good news is that Johansson is one of the few actresses who can pull off Lucy’s vulnerability when we meet her as well as the stoic unemotional killer she becomes after the accident. In some ways, that makes the character an extension of the alien Johansson played in the even odder sci-fi thriller “Under the Skin.” It’s just as fun watching Johansson kick ass and deal with her adversaries in clever ways, but as the ticking clock starts making its way towards 100% brain capacity, Lucy starts becoming unstoppable as she turns herself into a super-computer with a God complex and well, that’s pretty much when the movie turns into “Transcendence,” which is already a comparison hard to avoid with Freeman spouting technobabble knowledge about evolution and brain power, trying to add some veracity to the theories espoused by the film.
Just like that failed science fiction movie from earlier this year, it’s often hard to keep a straight face the more ludicrous Lucy’s abilities become, everything from telekinesis to time travel. Things start to go downhill when Lucy’s body starts to deteriorate, which is likely to be where the movie is going to lose some people as it goes from the silly to the inane with Lucy’s questionable motives being helped by Freeman and his colleagues “in the name of science.”
Regardless of how silly it may become at times, “Lucy” also could act as a good barometer for the hypocrisy of film criticism, because if Christopher Nolan made this exact same movie–word for word, frame for frame–or if Terrence Malick were responsible for some of the film’s trippier FX-laden visuals, it would be declared a work of genius. Not that either filmmaker would make this movie, but because this is Luc Besson, better known for lighter often mindless entertainment, it won’t be taken very seriously and maybe that’s a good thing.
The Bottom Line:
Following along the lines of “Limitless” and “Transcendence” in trying to explore what the human mind is capable of, Luc Besson makes an entertaining but often inane sci-fi action movie that mainly works due to Scarlet Johansson’s presence on screen.