A film review by Craig J. Koban August 7, 2014



2014, R, 90 mins.


Scarlett Johansson as Lucy  /  Morgan Freeman as Professor Norman  /  Choi Min-Sik as Kang  /  Analeigh Tipton as Caroline  /  Amr Waked as Pierre Del Rio

Written and directed by Luc Besson

Luc Besson’s sci-fi thriller LUCY has been applauded in critical circles for its inspired ridiculousness.  It’s a film that you just have to “go with” says many.  

I have nothing wrong with any film that has a go-for-broke insanity about it, but only as long as its sticks to its inherent silliness.  Alas, the damning problem with LUCY is that it tries to be a absurdly high concept, speculative sci-fi drama to make us think about its subject and a mindlessly cheesy blood-spattered, B-grade exploitation action picture to elicit cheap thrills.  Besson wants to have his cake and eat it too here, but his complete inability to come to grips with one of the film's tonal hemispheres makes for a discordant – and, more often than not, frankly laughable – film.  

LUCY’s central premise has also been explored before in better films.  The notion of humans transcending the very limitations of their brain’s capacity has been touched on in films as recent as TRANSCENDENCE (not wholly successful, but far more compelling than what’s on display here) and LIMITLESS, the Bradley Cooper cautionary drama about a man that uses a drug to help boost his cognitive functioning beyond the normal range (by the way, most neuroscientists believe that the notion of people only being able to use 10 per cent of their brain’s inner workings is an urban myth).  

LUCY is about a woman that – via means and circumstances beyond her control or consent – is granted the gift of progressively accessing untapped brain resources until, yup, she is able to use 100 per cent of her cerebral capacity, which, in this cockamamie film’s case, gives her super human, godlike abilities that would make even Neo from THE MATRIX blush with a whoa-like envy.  The longer the film progresses the more extraordinary powers its titular character is given…but you just "have to go with."  I found myself just incredulously shaking my head and asking too many questions.

The film at least features a fully committed performance by Scarlett Johansson, who plays things with a thankless straightness, perhaps because she acknowledges just how moronically nuts the story is built around her.  She plays Lucy, an American gal abroad that is tricked into helping her boyfriend of only a few weeks into delivering a secured briefcase – contents unknown – to a vile gangster, Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi).  Lucy is essentially coerced and forced to comply with her boyfriend’s request, but she learns rather quickly how dire her situation is when Jang’s goons essentially kidnap and take her prisoner.  The gangster surgically places a bag of a new experimental drug in her stomach that he hopes to traffic, but during a skirmish with one of Jang’s henchmen the bag bursts and causes the drug to filter through Lucy’s bloodstream.  It has been previously established that just a minuscule amount of this narcotic can easily kill a man in seconds. 



Astoundingly – and for reasons never fully explained – Lucy survives her internal drug overdose, but it has fundamentally changed her physically, emotionally, and mentally: In short, she can no dramatically increase her brain’s functioning and capacity, eventually allowing her to hit that mythical 100 per cent threshold where anything goes.  It allows her to become a lethal, emotionless, ass-kicking fembot that can kill with little mercy or hesitation (has her new brain capacity affected her sense of morality…well...the film never journeys an answer) and, within no time, she’s even able to levitate objects and manipulate minds like a Jedi and even move through time and space.  She’s able to deduce – due to her higher intelligence – that she will die in 24 hours if she does not procure more of the drug, which leaves her seeking out world-renowned brain scientist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) while Jang’s hitmen actively seek her out.

Okay, where does one begin with this film?  LUCY makes less sense the longer it parades around from one fundamentally head-scratching scene to the next.  The film places poor Freeman in the egregiously convenient throwaway role of the specialist that is able to provide the audience with all sorts of expositional dialogue about the nature of the brain and what theoretically could happen when humans tap 100 per cent of its power.  Yet, as a man of scrutinizing intelligence and knowledge himself, when Lucy is able to transport herself into his hotel TV and carry on a conversation with the man, Norman never once seems to question its logic.  Another character – a French cop played by Amr Waked - also teams up with Lucy at one point, but when she begins to put her pursuers asleep by simply waving her hands he seems to lack even a scintilla of an astonished reaction.  LUCY is a film that frequently showcases a woman doing fundamentally awe inspiring things that rarely gets an awe-inspired reaction from her onlookers. 

The other problem too is that as Lucy becomes more of a shape-shifting, temporal traveling, and all-knowing deity it all but neuters any semblance of tension or intrigue in the film.  This girl simply can’t be stopped or killed.  She’s invincible in ways that not even Superman can brag.  If her increasingly unstoppable powers were not giggle-inducing enough, then Besson’s heavy handed visual juxtapositions in the film will leave you laughing uncontrollable at their pretentiousness and blatant obviousness.  Early on – as Lucy goes from innocent kidnapped victim to a Vulcan-esque robot with unlimited analytical functioning – Besson splices in shots of predatory animals in the wild slowly trekking and killing their prey.  Besson doesn’t trust his audience’s intelligence enough for us to draw the metaphorically connection here, so he goes out of his way to visually explain it to us.  Wow.

And then there’s this film’s ending.  What a humdinger and knee-slapper.  Lucy begins, inexplicably enough, with shots of a prehistoric ape-woman and then revisits them in the finale as Lucy is able to somehow transcend her humanoid body and become a being that’s both one with computers and can traverse back through time to what I think is the very beginnings of the known universe, which ties back to the cavewoman scenes presented earlier on.  Again, Besson’s methodical browbeating of the film’s themes of evolution – both past and present – are more insipidly comical than they are mind-bending and blowing.  Besson clearly wants to attain a level of fascination in his material in the same manner that 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY did with its finale.  Funny, but in the end of 2001 David Bowman did not turn himself into a sparkly USB flashdrive. 

LUCY is a very stupid and silly movie that wants to be smart.  It has a script that barely utilizes 10 per cent of its own brain power...let alone 100.  Besson aims for pulpy, disposable action beats with introspective, contemplative sci-fi ideas…and it’s an unmitigated and confused mess, almost as if he was simply throwing ideas haphazardly on screen and hoping they would all coalesce together seamlessly in the end.  I will give points to Johansson for at least giving a grounded dramatic performance amidst the film’s half-baked and chuckle-inducing conceits.  She’s able to somehow make Lucy’s most bizarrely cringe-inducing dialogue scenes – when she becomes less human and more machine-like – not approach Razzie performance territory.  Like, for instance, when Lucy talks to her mother on the phone: “I remember the taste of your milk in my mouth.”  

Ouch.  I’ll for sure remember the foul taste that this film left in mine.   

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