Scarlett Johansson stars as Lucy, a party-ready American girl, whose trip to China is cut short once she hooks up with the wrong guy. What happens isn’t of the Brokedown Palace or Midnight Express variety, but a sci-fi spin on the issue of drug mules. If you haven’t seen the spoiler-heavy trailer, the genuinely crazy twists ahead are a nice surprise.
I love Lucy. This is what a comic book movie would be like if it didn’t have to follow the constraints of neatly establishing a future franchise or following any “rules” of the genre (or medical science, for that matter).
After a dialogue-heavy opening, with a conversation establishing the film’s setting and Lucy’s scary predicament, the movie is off and running, never slowing down, hurtling from one bizarre scenario to another. It’s no mistake that this comes from writer/director Luc Besson; it seems formed from pieces of his Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element.
Lucy is something of a cross between Besson’s La Femme Nikita and Ken Russell’s Altered States. Take that as an affectionate nod to how adorably bonkers this is, as well as a warning to those who require logic stronger than that of a Looney Tunes cartoon, which this also resembles.
Throughout the first half, as Lucy’s journey becomes increasingly dire, Besson begins inserting footage of wild animals, nature and bits of Morgan Freeman’s Professor Norman giving a lecture on the possibilities of the human mind. Cutting the distractingly documentary-like footage into the action doesn’t completely work, though at least Besson hasn’t lost his touch for eccentric filmmaking. The brisk first act is nasty, intense and proudly pulpy, as bodies pile high even before the action truly takes off. As with Besson’s other works, none of this is meant to be taken seriously — as if that were even possible in a movie this silly.
After losing his way 15 years ago with his ambitious but botched Joan of Arc epic The Messenger, Besson seemed to drift from the spotlight. He made the occasional awful movie (Arthur and the Invisibles, The Family), though Besson’s most frequent film work was co-writing and co-producing action films like Colombiana, and the Taken and Transporter franchises, which all have his cinematic trademarks.
Lucy is Besson’s best film since The Fifth Element, which also showcased a female lead performance so good, the film is unimaginable without her. Lucy is a much better vehicle for Johansson than any of the Marvel features. She nails the character’s literal struggle to maintain her humanity. Watch her closely during the knockout scene, where she has a sad, reflective phone call with her mother; Johansson’s portrayal of a woman of guarded, mysterious intent is as intriguing here as it was in Under the Skin.
Though the plot asks us to consider what would happen if humans could use more than 10 percent of their brains, it’s merely a gimmick. Once we arrive at the point at which Lucy exacts revenge on her captors, it becomes so anything-goes that the narrative possibilities that spring from Besson seem to ask, “Why not?”
The problem with Besson’s crafting something so fast and nutty is that characterizations are minimal, the wild ending is laughable and overly abrupt, and, once again, Freeman has been cast to play Morgan Freeman instead of an actual character. Still, if any 2014 release understands that movies are about showing us the impossible and entertaining us above all else, it’s this one. It may be trashy and absurd, but make no mistake, Lucy is fearless.