By Mark Saldana
Rating: 1.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
With Luc Besson’s writing and directing credits that include The Transporter saga, The Fifth Element, and La Femme Nikita, one would expect his latest film entry to have plenty of thrilling, pulse-pounding action. However, that actually is not the case with Lucy. With the exception of one exciting car chase sequence, Besson’s inappropriately categorized “action/science fiction” flick actually aims to be much more cerebral and philosophical than what movie audiences normally expect from the French director. The problem has to do with the lack of creativity in its story, characters, and style. The result is a hodge-podge of elements from other more effectual movies and stories.
Lucy stars Scarlett Johansson as the title character, a congenial student living abroad in Taiwan. After a night of partying, her date Richard (Pilou Asbaek) forces Lucy to deliver a mysterious package to a shady businessman named Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik). When Lucy tries to make delivery and get away safely, a group of armed heavies take her hostage and force her to be a drug mule. A mystery drug gets surgically implanted in her abdomen so that it will remain undetected by airport officers. Upon arrival at her destination, Lucy gets assaulted, causing the drug package to burst open and flow into her body. The experimental drug has the ability to boost untapped powers of the brain giving Lucy nearly unlimited powers. After becoming more knowledgeable of the substance that flows in her body, Lucy seeks out the other mules to keep the drugs from getting into the wrong hands.
Aside from the ludicrous notion that people only use ten percent of their brain’s abilities and the fact that the movie thrives off of this notion, one can easily suspend some disbelief for the sake of a fun action/thriller. However, as I previously stated, the film doesn’t feature the amount of action one would expect from Luc Besson. Besson attempts to take a more existential approach drawing influences and ideas from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Malick’s Tree of Life, Otomo’s Akira, and the Wachowski’s Matrix Trilogy. The entire affair really is a mess and feels rather pretentious. The film does actually engage and engross as it plays out, simply because one wants to know where it’s going with its story and lead character. When it concludes, though, it leaves one feeling a bit cheated and dissatisfied.
From a technical and aesthetical standpoint, the movie is strikingly gorgeous and impressive. Besson and his effects crew deserve kudos for editing and visual effects. I did get a bit annoyed with Besson for copying some of his visual style and musical cues from other films, some of which I mentioned above. I think that, because this film covers way too familiar territory (especially for film buffs) with not enough unique qualities of its own, is what makes this film so utterly frustrating.
The performances by the cast are fine with no real powerful or outstanding turns from anyone. I feel this has to do more with the limitations of the script and the lack of character development, however. In addition to Johansson, Lucy also stars Morgan Freeman as Dr. Norman, an expert on the biology of the human brain, Amr Waked as police detective Pierre Del Rio, and Analeigh Tipton as Lucy’s roommate Caroline. The casting of Choi Min-sik (from the original 2003 Oldboy) is an ingenious choice, but would have had more impact had Besson better developed his characters and not made Min-sik’s Mr. Jang so two dimensional.
The lack of dimensional characters only makes the film less compelling by lowering the stakes. Why should audiences care about Lucy and the craziness she experiences in her adventure in tapping into the, ahem, unlimited powers of the brain? That problem, among the others I indicated above, make this movie a highly aggravating piece of filmmaking and storytelling. It is definitely one audiences should skip at the cinema.