Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Luc Besson
Screenplay: Luc Besson
Cast: Scarlett Johannson, Morgan Freeman, Pilou Asbaek, Min-sik Choi, Clare Tran
Screened at: NYC, 7/21/14
Opens: July 25, 2014
At the movie’s conclusion, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) states: “We’ve had life for a billion years. Now we know what to do with it.” What does she think we should do with our lives? Presumably we should be able to stare at a gun and watch the bullets fall out harmlessly to the ground; look at a bunch of gangsters pointing AK-47s at us and have them drop their pieces and fly to the ceiling flaying impotently’ conjure up dinosaurs and disappear just as they are about to gobble you up; and drive effortlessly down a one-way highway while watching cars pile up helplessly. In other words, while you may think that Lucy, who is steadily able to raise the capacity of her brain from the usual, human 10% to 100%, will be able to solve a Rubik Cube in 15 seconds, complete a New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in indelible ink, or memorize 154 theorems in minutes without ever taking high-school geometry, Lucy’s brain is completely different. Sure, she probably could learn to speak French with a Montréal accent if she should get the strange notion to do so, but writer-director Luc Besson has other plans for this brainiac. She has the powers of a superhero: she can exercise telekinesis by moving objects and people from one place to another by simply willing it, can take a quick look at the unspoiled U.S. when Native Americans ruled the land, and touch the forehead of a famous scientist to discover that his six-year-old daughter had died in an auto accident. What’s more she can look at an X-ray of a person on an operating table, discern that he has advanced, incurable cancer, and shoot the poor fellow because “he could not possibly survive anyway.”
Is Lucy the new embodiment of feminine empowerment? That’s probably among the themes that Luc Besson had in mind, considering that he also created such powerful female heroes as the eponymous Femme Nikita and no less than Joan of Arc in “Messenger.”
“Lucy” is a combination of the title character’s superhuman powers and a standard gangster melodrama, the former given life by a gorgeous series of psychedelic images and imaginative, fantasy scenes, while the latter exhibits groups of Taiwanese thugs with AK-47’s, a drug mob that kidnaps people and forces them to work as drug mules by implanting whole plastic bags of blue powder into their stomachs. When such a bag embedded in Lucy breaks, some of the powder spills out transforming her brain capacity gradually, a feat that later evokes the interest of Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), seen lecturing a large group of scientists riveted on his commentary. “There are more communications between our cells than there are stars in the sky,” he intones, thereby paving the way for a movie that gives graphic substance to Lucy’s potency.
Filming in Taipei and Paris (and allegedly annoyed by the constant interruptions of paparazzi during the late night shootings on the Chinese island), Besson hones in on Choi Min-sik as Kang, the leader of a large drug mob intent on selling drugs, though for what purpose we don’t know. To increase brain power? The mobster seems unaware of that potential. Kang is sought by Amr Waked as a tough, French policeman who has no fear of the gangsters and tries to act calm when Lucy takes the wheels of a police car. The gang chases Lucy; Lucy has visions that bring out the best imaginations of the Special Effects guys. And so it goes, the picture essentially split between those two polar choices, a sci-fi extravaganza and a standard hoodlum tale.
Scarlett Johansson never looked better or more assured of her role. If she speaks in a monotone and keeps a poker face throughout, this is obviously Besson’s intention. We can be sure that Johannson can tap the entire scale of emotions as she has done with films like “Hitchcock” where she became Janet Leigh and “Her” where her personality shines even as a disembodied voice.
“Lucy” is ordinary as a gangster story, exceptional in its special effects, but ultimately serving no realistic point since a drug that increases our brain power—such a chemical may indeed be in our future—may give us 4.0 averages in college but will not likely be able to talk the bullets out of a gun.
Rated R. 88 minutes. © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B
Technical – A-
Overall – B