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France 2014
Directed by
Luc Besson
90 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


Synopsis: A woman (Scarlett Johansson) forced to be a drug mule for a Chinese drug lord (Min-sik Choi), turns the tables on her captors and becomes a super-intelligent killing machine.   

Luc Besson was one of the originators of the so-called cinéma du look with productions such as Subway and La Femme Nikita stamping their mark on French film of the 1980s. He then morphed into a very successful writer and producer of hyper-kinetic crime action films, notably the Transporter franchise. 2011’s thoughtful biopic about Aung San Suu Kyi, The Lady, was a rare departure from a film-making career that has been predominantly devoted to the slickly eye-catching. Lucy puts him firmly back in that territory.

For all its pretensions to intellectual sophistication Lucy is pretty much your standard cartoon super-hero movie. It looks good and at 90 minutes efficiently assembles the familiar elements into a diverting-enough yarn but beyond that there isn't a lot.  There are interesting ideas here, mainly of an epistemological stripe and centering on the questionable truism that we humans only use 10% of our brain capacity. Thematically the film asks the question "What if we used 100%?".

A good premise for a film indeed but this is where Besson consistently under-delivers. When Lucy accidentally ingests a wonder drug (a synthetic version of a real substance apparently created by pregnant women that kick-starts the growing foetus at 6 weeks) she turns into a gun-wielding killer with tele-kinetic powers and spends the whole movie in a chemically-fueled race against time as her brain-power develops exponentially towards self-destruction. Or something like that. It's a bit depressing that her reptilian brain holds such a strong grip over her higher faculties and that a Darwinian struggle to survive (and genre conventions) rule the day. The film ends with Lucy’s voice-over saying: “You were given life a billion years ago.Now you know what to do with it”.  I suspect most people would respond, “Huh?”.

I’m not familiar with Johansson’s turn as a super-hero in The Avengers but here, in a role originally slated for Angelina Jolie, she struck me as a kind of embodied version of the unseen computerized entity that she played in Her. Frankly when she wasn't over-acting, she doesn’t bring much to the role.  Freeman as a talkatively avuncular professor is as-ever an handy narrative prop (what a career he has had doing this!) useful for spelling out any ideas that may be awkward to present otherwise (although the Prof. has a power-point presentation, Besson also interpellates a lot of gimmicky stock footage to illustrate his points about human evolution). Only Min-sik Choi impresses as the very nasty crime boss.

Lucy looks like Besson on LSD doing a pop-corn take on Terence Malick’s Tree Of Life . It’s got some interesting ideas and some impressive CGI work. Besson, who also wrote the script has a taste for metaphysical speculation as his 2005 film, Angel-A indicated, but as that film also demonstrated, philosophical inquiry and visual showmanship don’t really go together.




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