Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review: "Lucy"

Director: Luc Besson
Runtime: 90 minutes

Luc Besson's Lucy is dumb, but it is - in its own Besson-esque way - admirably dumb. It is better crafted than, say, the typical Michael Bay flick. It also avoids being just another action movie with nothing but violence. Lucy is a look at what happens when a person does what mankind has been trying to do for millennia: reach the absolute height of our capabilities. Does this make Lucy deep or insightful? Not even close. It is ludicrous, as is Besson's way, but ludicrous in a way that takes the idea of "mindless entertainment" to places it has not yet ventured. 

The silliness begins right at the start, with Lucy (Scarlett Johannson, having quite a stellar year) being egged on by her new boyfriend to make a delivery to a prominent member of a global drug ring (Choi Min-sik, AKA the original "Oldboy"). That delivery turns out to be a special new drug that, when ingested, boosts brain activity. After lots of pleading and crying, Lucy winds up with a bag of the blue drug lodged in her intestines. And then, after an unfortunate beating, the blue stuff starts leaking out of its container, and into Lucy's bloodstream, thus enabling her to push past the normal limits (10%) of human intellectual.

As any number of articles have pointed out, the idea that we only use 10% of our brains is a myth. To those using this issue as an actual criticism of the film I offer this response: it's a Luc Besson movie, not a documentary. This is not to suggest that everyone is obligated to enjoy the film based on this single fact. Rather, the idea that its conceptual inaccuracy (which was also used in the Bradley Cooper vehicle Limitless) is hardly something that should be wielded against the film as an unpardonable sin.  Lucy is not meant to be taken seriously, though everyone involved commits themselves enough to make the whole thing enjoyable. 

Besson, to his credit, actually does a fair job of bouncing between Lucy's wildly opposed narrative threads. On one hand, it's a revenge thriller, while on the other side it's a story of scientific enlightenment and the quest for knowledge. The latter part is, surprisingly, more fun to watch. From quite early on, it's clear that Lucy's ever increasing powers remove the idea of an actual threat. There is little suspense or tension. Instead, there are relentless visual flourishes and propulsive narrative energy. Besson has taken some ideas about life and the universe from The Tree of Life and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and applied them to the emptiest sort of sci-fi adventure. I don't know if that makes the film good, but it sure as hell makes it entertaining.

It's also a fun showcase for Johansson as a action star, which is always a plus. Lucy is, in some ways, the halfway point between two other releases from this year featuring Johansson: Captain America 2 and Under the Skin. Johansson gets to show off her star power, yet does it in a role that mostly requires her to be as emotionally rigid as a statue. Thankfully, Besson gives the actress a little time at the start to do some actual emoting before her inner demi-god emerges. Lucy is a reminder that Johansson can be a star, but simply not in the ways that Hollywood initially wanted her to be. 

Of course, even the allure of watching Scarlett Johansson strut around and play with time and space won't be enough for some, and that's understandable. As I said before, Lucy is one hell of a dumb movie. When it comes to movies that require switching off the brain, there's a limit to how far some are willing to go. Lucy is one of those movies that will push many way past their tolerance for this sort of flashy trifle. With a film like Lucy, it's not about whether or not you get something substantial out of it. No sane person will. All that matters is whether or not you happen to like how it tastes. 

Grade: C+

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