Friday, July 25, 2014

Luc Besson’s LUCY: Over-The-Top Yet Still Underwhelming

Opening today at a multiplex near you...

 (Dir.Luc Besson, 2014)

It’s too bad that Scarlett Johansson’s Marvel Universe co-star Samuel L. Jackson isn’t here to exclaim “check out the big brain on Lucy!” PULP FICTION-style, because Luc Besson’s new sci-fi thriller keeps asking us to do just that.

Johansson’s Lucy is an American student in Taipei, Taiwan, who gets forced into being a drug mule for an evil Korean crime lord (Choi Min-sik). But the colossal catch is that the drug the bad guys implant in our protagonist is a powerful synthetic called CPH4 (which looks a lot like the bright blue crystal meth from Breaking Bad), which increases one’s control over their mind rapidly bit by bit until it reaches 100% brain capacity.

This gives Johansson hyper-intelligence, superhuman strength, and the ability to change her metabolism, but this alteration in her body’s chemistry means she’ll need more of the drug within 24 hours or she’ll start decomposing. So Johannson travels to Paris to track down the other drug mules and confiscate their CPH4 with the help of Amr Waked as a grizzled French cop.

Morgan Freeman is on hand as a neuroscientist who first appears in cutaways from the main action lecturing a college classroom his theories about the brain’s untapped potential. These bits capture Freeman in narrator mode (when is he not in narrator mode?), and, mashed with cuts to nature footage, and time lapse cinematography, serve to visually sucker punch us with heady imagery and lofty conceptual themes.

This makes for some watchable eye candy especially when it comes to the fun of seeing Johansson kick lots of ass with her mind, but all the pseudo intellectual posturing that all the collective conscience of all humanity contains the entire history of the universe and ‘wow, what if we could tap into that?’ seems purposely aimed to shoot way over the heads of most movie-goers so they’ll think the movie is way smarter than it is.

Johansson beautifully builds upon the emotionless alien persona she exhibited in Jonathan Glaser’s UNDER THE SKIN earlier this year largely because we get to witness her invested transformation from college party girl to atomic super-heroine. Unfortunately as the climax approaches, Johansson literally gets absorbed into the surreal set pieces – i.e. she morphs into a black tentacle mass of squid’s limbs taking over a computer lab – as her presence becomes less and less interesting.

LUCY takes the “Flowers for Algernon”/CHARLY – i.e. everyman takes drug and gets super smarts - scenario, also recently utilized in the Bradley Cooper vehicle LIMITLESS and filters it through the ‘to understand how we live now, let’s begin at the very beginning’ thesis of Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE, which means, yep, there are dinosaurs. There's also a bit of Danny Boyle's time lapsing intros/outros from 127 HOURS happening too. I guess it’s all part of life’s rich pageant as Inspector Clouseau would say.

But for all these influences and/or pretensions, there’s little that’s actually thought provoking about the over-the-top yet still underwhelming LUCY. It tries so hard to be mind blowing, but it keeps coming up short. 

That said, Besson’s film is a vast improvement over THE FAMILY, his misguided mob family comedy last year, and it appealingly harkens back to his late ‘90s cult classic THE FIFTH ELEMENT. I also appreciate that it’s a summer blockbuster wannabe that isn’t a franchise entry, and isn’t in 3D.

However, no matter how much its stylish energy tries to obscure it, LUCY is a silly popcorn picture matinee masquerading as egghead cinema.

More later...

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