Monday, July 28, 2014
LUCY is Occasionally Badass, Mostly Brainless
- I pretty much always enjoy films directed or produced by Luc Besson. The guy knows from badass B-grade cinema, and even when his movies aren't good, per se, they're almost always entertaining. That said, it's been twenty years since Besson directed his masterpiece, Leon: The Professional, and though he's had some bonafide recent successes as a writer and producer (District B13, Transporter, Taken), the man is overdue for a truly jaw-dropping directorial effort. Unfortunately, Lucy is not it. Oh, sure, the movie drips with Besson's trademark stylistic flourishes. But the film is quite simply weighed down by its sheer dumbness. Besson tries to give LUCY a high-concept sci-fi premise - about a woman who unlocks the ability to use 100% of her brain (premise alone should be a warning sign) - but what might have at least been dumb brainless fun instead is both achingly stupid and achingly pretentious. Besson seems to want to do more than just have Scarlett Johansson's Lucy kick ass and take names. He wants to make some statement about human potential, the origin of the species, and ... er, some other stuff that I couldn't quite discern. Basically, LUCY goes totally off the rails, but not in a good way.
Scarlett Johansson, perhaps best known now as the Black Widow of The Avengers and Captain America fame, is a great choice for Lucy. Scar-Jo has now added badass to her repertoire, but she also has that blue-collar, girl-next-door vibe that makes her seem relatable even as she's kicking ass. Johansson does a fine job in Lucy, and honestly, this could have been a fine action-thriller if it just avoided the high-concept stuff altogether. But no, this is a movie in which Lucy - an American ex-pat in Paris - gets caught up in a drug deal gone bad, and gets injected with a huge dosage of a concoction that begins expanding her mental capacity at an alarming rate. She uses that increased capacity - which eventually allows for telekinetic powers and whatnot - to pretty much hunt down and seek revenge on the traffickers responsible for her condition. Meanwhile, Lucy calls upon the reluctant Professor Norman - aka Morgan Freeman playing every Morgan Freeman role ever, except dumber - to help her understand what's happening to her brain.
There are a lot of lame brain-dead jokes I could make here, but I won't. What I will say is that LUCY is just flat-out frustrating in that it seems fascinated with the scientific concepts at its core, but also seems to have absolutely zero scientific credibility. I don't need my sci-fi movies to have the Neil DeGrasse Tyson seal of approval, but I do need for the supposedly-genius characters in a movie to sound at least halfway-smart. Morgan Freeman, in particular, is given some completely cringe-worthy dialogue here. He's supposed to be the world's leading expert on human cerebral capacity (or something), but he lectures a group of students in a manner that sounds less credible than if I were to jump on a stage right now and start rambling. All of the ways that the movie tries to show us how smart its characters are just seem dumb. Lucy is now a genius - thus she uses two, count 'em two, laptops at once! Freeman seems to realize this, and so he sort of phone it in here. It's funny though, as lame as some of the movie's dialogue sounds when Freeman says it, I can only imagine how exponentially worse it would have been if uttered by just about any other actor. But giving this stuff to Freeman is like a small band-aid on a gaping wound.
Besson is going for some sort of grand statement here. He splices several little National Geographic-style nature videos into the film. And there's a lot of talk that not-so-subtley compares this Lucy to Lucy: the missing link. The film keeps circling back to these themes in increasingly on-the-nose ways, but all of the film's ambitions of philosophical profundity fall flat, and are actually actively grating. None of it really adds up to anything of significance. Really, the entire sci-fi element of the film just doesn't work, and becomes increasingly silly as the movie goes on. I have a pretty high tolerance for sci-fi weirdness, but Lucy seems to get weirder and more out-there in a way that is less jaw-dropping and more eye-rolling.
What works is the more bread-and-butter action movie stuff. Lucy kicks ass in style, and Johansson - as directed with flair by Besson - owns the part. Really, the most enjoyable parts of the film involve the simple pleasures of Lucy turning the tables on various male scumbags who underestimate her. Initially, sweet justice is meted out by means of well-placed fists and feet. Later, it's through the always-satisfying method of telekinetic ownage - namely, Lucy raising her hands to the heavens and psychically nailing some poor sap's face to the ceiling. Besson, as always, has a knack for viscerally depicting scorned women finding their inner badass. And that's why Lucy's best pleasures are its simplest ones.
Ultimately though, those fun moments of Scar-Jo derived badassery are outweighed by all the other clunkiness in the film. A dumb movie that wants to be smart can be frustrating, and that's certainly true of LUCY. Also frustrating is that somewhere buried underneath is a pretty sweet, down n' dirty action flick in which Scarlett Johansson plays a La Femme Nikita for the modern age. Too bad all that "100% of your brain" nonsense had to get in the way of that.
My Grade: C