There’s a certain story arc that just about every Luc Besson film has in common, a theme of the “every man” caught up in events far beyond their understanding. It works well because we easily identify with the protagonist and yearn to see them succeed and overcome the challenges that they encounter on their quest to survive and achieve that mythic happy ending.
Besson, however, loves American action stunts and cinema by directors like Michael Bay (‘Transformers: Age of Extinction‘), so all of his films are characterized by a regular guy caught up in events but also by this guy turning out to have astonishing fighting and martial arts skills, skills that would give Jason Bourne and 007 a run for their money.
‘Lucy’ (Scarlett Johansson) is the logical next step in this formula; a scroungy, down-on-her-luck American girl living in Taiwan and hustling to make ends meet. During the film she turns into a proto-human, a woman who evolves beyond all human limitations and, ultimately beyond even a corporeal presence.
We first meet Lucy outside a sleek Taiwanese hotel, being begged by her boyfriend Richard (Pilou Asbaek) to do a quick courier job and deliver a briefcase to a Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi) who is staying at the hotel. Before she knows what’s happening, he’s cuffed her to the case, saying he’s sorry but Jang’s the only one with the key. But Jang is far more dangerous than Richard ever expects and Lucy soon wakes from an assault with a large bag of the dangerous hormone CPH4 sewn into her abdomen.
After being attacked by thugs while chained to a basement wall, the bag leaks and Lucy begins to assimilate the CPH4, giving her the ability to access more and more of her brain’s processing capacity. She quickly identifies human cognition researcher Norman (Morgan Freeman) in Paris and shows up to ask his help in understanding what’s happening to her.
The basic storyline is terrific, really, and while the whole “we only use a small percentage of our brain capacity” is long-since debunked, it’s still a great starting point for a thoughtful film about evolution, human cognitive abilities and the purpose of our individual lives. Except that’s not this film. It’s like the recent, rather similar film ‘Limitless’ but with more violence. Indeed, Lucy too quickly devolves into trademark Besson action sequences and never recovers.
Even when the action sequences don’t make sense.
At a point in her development where we already know Lucy can control other people with her thoughts, for example, she jumps into the police car of Parisian cop Capt. Del Rio (Amr Waked) and proceeds to drive pell-mell through Paris, causing accidents left and right as she goes the wrong way on roads, drives on sidewalks, etc. Except she can control people remotely, so why wouldn’t she just have them all stop their vehicles so she can safely wind through them?
As the film proceeds and Lucy gains more and more brain capacity, her powers grow to where she can change her physical appearance, notably including the length and color of her hair. Her eyes are constantly changing shape and color — a really cool effect — and yet she can’t seem to instruct her body to heal any more quickly when she’s injured.
And then there are the constant cutaways to stock footage. It’s a horrible stylistic blunder on the part of director Besson and keeps changing an already short action film, running barely 88 minutes, into a dry documentary in the most trite, cliché way.
All of which is tremendously disappointing because I really enjoy Johansson as an actor, always find Freeman a solid supporting actor and even enjoy Besson’s best action movies (of particular note are ‘The Professional,’ ‘The Transporter,’ and ‘La Femme Nikita’). Fact is, starting with a great premise, ‘Lucy’ absolutely falls apart and by the time it ends, it’s more akin to a sizzle reel for a stuntman training school, not the work of a talented master director with a top-notch cast.
See this is you’re addicted to action movies, but don’t expect too much, and be kind when ‘Lucy’ falls apart and you start wanting to groan at the dumb ending, especially the ghastly stupid final sentence voice over that should have never made it past the cutting room floor. All told, however, we really do expect more from you, Mr. Besson.