In the world of French film director/writer Luc Besson, the average, everyday normal kind of people take a back seat to a place populated by gangs, thugs, mobsters, hitmen and some really hot women who shoot, maim and kill anyone who gets in their way.
In Lucy, Besson’s new fantasy violent thriller with flurries of science-fiction, Scarlett Johansson plays a young student living abroad in Taiwan. Of course, this being a Luc Besson film, he can’t have his heroine looking like a real American student overseas, so instead of tee-short, jeans, sneakers and maybe a Steelers ball cap he has her dressed in a leopard skin top, mini skirt, heels and over-sized, dangling earrings while sporting messy, bleached blonde hair. She’s a fantasy hooker with college on her mind.
The bad guys, a bunch of merciless Taiwanese gangsters all dressed smartly in dark suits and black ties, kidnap Lucy and force her to be a drug mule. They implant a plastic pouch of drugs known as CPH4 in her body, then sew her up and prepare her and three other mules to fly to various destinations around the world in order to get the drugs through customs, unobserved “It’s a new drug that kids in Europe are gonna love,” the bad guys explain.
But it all goes wrong. Due to an accident, Lucy’s plastic pouch leaks and the mysterious, new drug seeps into her system. She suddenly becomes some of kind of ever-evolving superwoman possessing a super brain. Forget her studies – there’s nothing the local college would be able to teach her – she now has revenge and the meaning of life on her mind. It’s that old urban myth about how we only use ten percent of our brain to think and function. In Lucy’s case, the cinematically blue shiny crystals of CPH4 open her mind way past the infamous ten percent resulting with untapped chaos. Despite the nutty premise, so far so good. Then things get really weird.
Had Lucy continued on the superwoman seeking revenge route, the film might have been fun, but writer/director Besson has bigger themes he wants to tackle. He’s actually taking this gobbledygook kind of serious – it’s like someone who tells themselves a lie then believes it – and has his Lucy exploring the nature and meaning of human existence, all while blowing the bad guys to pieces with those trademark guns and their elongated silencers that look so cool on the big screen if you walk around with one in each hand.
By the end of the film, Lucy experiences something akin to the visuals astronaut David Bowman witnesses in the ambiguous ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, only where Bowman was floating in infinite and beyond, with Lucy it’s all in her head. The only way to end this premise once her mind is eventually open to the full one hundred percent is to disappear up her own existence, which, in a manner of speaking, is exactly what she does.
Luc Besson is often referred to as the Steven Spielberg of France, but I beg to differ. He’s more Quentin Tarantino, which is not the same thing. The Besson and Tarantino styles and presentation are different, but the worlds they create are the same. Like Tarantino, Besson’s characters inhabit a parallel universe born not of reality but from images derived from other films.
The urban legend of the ten percent brain usage fits nicely into Luc Besson’s fantasies. He takes this folklore and presents it as fact by having Morgan Freeman play an expert on the subject giving detailed lectures on what might happen if the human brain was unlocked and used to its full potential.
It’s no coincidence that the teaser trailer released a while back made Lucy look potentially great. That’s what Besson does. He makes nonsense look great, but what looked fun in ninety seconds isn’t quite the same as stretching it to ninety minutes. When Lucy brings swift justice to the bad guys with slick though murderous moves, it’s all what the trailer promised, but once she starts developing super telekinesis powers that would make Carrie look like an amateur, then, like Lucy’s drug-addled brain as it continues to expand, the film falls apart. The action is perfectly fine; it’s just not particularly good sci-fi.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 89 Minutes Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)