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Universal // R // July 25, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
Superhumans are hitting the cinema once again, but not in the way that you think. Back in 2011, Bradley Cooper starred in a film titled Limitless, which plays with the "we only access 10% of our brain" myth. It asks, what would happen if we could access 100% of our brain capacity? Even though the notion that we only use 10% is simply not true, it made for some decent entertainment at the cinema. Writer/director Luc Besson is taking a stab at the very same concept in the Scarlett Johansson-led action science fiction flick titled Lucy. The 90-minute feature successfully entertains, but it has more than a few missing pieces that greatly lessens what could have been a wonderful summer film experience.
After becoming handcuffed to a briefcase filled with drugs, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is forced to transport the package inside of her body internationally. After the contents of the bag leak into her system, she transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic. She enlists the help of Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), who has studied the human brain's potential for decades. It's now up to Lucy to take down a group of dangerous drug dealers, as well as revolutionize the human species.
Writer/director Luc Besson has a reputation with moviegoers to create mindless popcorn action entertainment. His most recent motion pictures aren't necessarily known for being genuinely good pieces of cinema, but he most certainly knows how to keep us entertained. However, he manages to surprise with Lucy through the first act. It has a tone similar to that found in a South Korean thriller, which lends itself to a truly wonderful start. Besson's screenplay constantly utilizes juxtaposition in a smart and fascinating way. As Lucy realizes that she simply has to survive the flight overseas, she tries to remain as calm as possible. This ultimately leads to an unstoppable female protagonist who wants to expand our knowledge, all while gaining vengeance on the drug dealers who put her in the situation. The screenplay's ridiculousness is intertwined with some moments of well-written plot beats and some reasonably smart dialogue. Unfortunately, the film is taken on a quick downward slope from which it never quite manages to recover from.
After taking a look at the marketing campaign, Lucy is being sold to audiences as an action flick first, and a science fiction film second. However, the film is actually the other way around. While there are a few action sequences, they're few in number. Besson primarily focuses on how Professor Norman's hypotheses and how they relate to what Lucy is experiencing. However, if it wanted to take the science fiction route, it doesn't quite run all of the way with it. Rather, it holds back and fills in the gaps with action sequences. This wouldn't ordinarily be an issue, although the majority of them simply display a one-way slaughter, making for some of the shortest scenes that one would expect. However, there is a car chase around Paris that's an absolute blast to watch. Perhaps Besson was worried about making Lucy too "smart," and decided to dumb it down a bit with action sequences, most of which have very little passion. You'll find yourself wishing that he took one tone and stuck with it. Preferably sticking with the the thriller atmosphere found in the first act of the picture.
The biggest flaws truly come to life through the third act of the film. There are absolutely no emotional stakes to be found. We never get to know the protagonist in a personal way, and while her family is threatened, that angle is abandoned rather quickly. This eliminates all possible tension, leaving us with something that may be entertaining, but has no bite. The first act's tone has some power to it, but this spark is ultimately abandoned by the time the final act rolls around. What started as an intriguing picture finds itself in generic action territory, except without the climax. Due to the severe lack of tension, the feature never finds a high point. While it's never boring, the film certainly shows its stupidity. Lucy has one of the lamest endings to hit the silver screen in quite some time. It feels as if Besson wasn't sure how to end it, so he tacked this on. It tries so hard to seem smart that it comes across as being unintelligent. Lucy becomes so powerful, that no antagonist poses any threat. She's practically a god, so it never feels as if she's in any danger once she begins acquiring these abilities.
If you've seen any of the huge posters around town with Scarlett Johansson's face, then you already know the star of Lucy. She does a decent job with the character, although perhaps having a non-recognizable actress in this role could have made it play out better. Regardless, it's still a lot of fun to watch Johansson slaughter drug dealers on screen. Morgan Freeman is once again here to play himself, in the form of Professor Norman, of course. The only purpose of his presence is to explain every plot point, proving that Besson doesn't trust the audience to be smart enough to understand what's going on. This is the same performance that he's given in the past few years, and it's getting a bit tired. Due to the paper-thin antagonists, the actors are stuck with very little to work with. Johansson is most certainly the strongest asset to the cast.
Throughout the feature, we're constantly being told how much brain capacity Lucy is utilizing within a given moment. This makes for even more intense abilities that require some impressive visuals on the behalf of Besson and his team. Pretty much everything looks fairly strong, although it occasionally comes off as being a bit cartoonish. However, the stunt work is quite strong, as it truly makes us believe that Lucy's powers are something for the antagonists to fear. He succeeds where many action directors fail in how we're always able to see what's going on. While the quick cuts are there, they don't interfere with our ability to see everything. Other than the CGI work, writer/director Luc Besson has done a good job with providing his sense of visuals and making it feel a little bit different from everything that we've seen lately.
There are some successes to be spoken of, but writer/director Luc Besson's Lucy is overwhelmed with some rather large issues. Due to the protagonist's "god-like" abilities, no antagonist stands as a threat. There isn't an ounce of tension to be found past the first act, and the ending is a huge letdown. Even so, Besson truly captures us through the first act's intriguing use of tone, although it loses its path along the way of the remainder of the picture. While such problems can't simply be brushed off, the film is entertaining enough to keep your full attention throughout its short 90-minute running time. Lucy is an entertaining picture with a promising start that simply doesn't hold for its duration. Rent it.