PLOT: Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) – a young student living in Taiwan – is coerced into becoming a drug mule by a ruthless gangster (Choi Min-sik). When the contents of her package are absorbed into her blood, she suddenly becomes capable of unlocking dormant parts of her brain, making her virtually superhuman.
REVIEW: LUCY is not at all the film I was expecting, nor the film that Universal is so cannily marketing. The trailers would make you think this is an action thriller in the vein of director Luc Besson's LA FEMME NIKITA. Right off the bat it's clear Besson is going for something way different, with it opening on shot of what's supposed to be the first (neanderthal) woman, who a character helpfully explains has since been dubbed Lucy by modern scientists. Basically, the creature is supposed to the the mother-of-life, and this basically takes that idea and puts it in the form of a formulaic action thriller. Imagine TREE OF LIFE (right down to the dinosaurs) re-imagined as an eighty-minute action movie and you've got an idea of what Besson is going for.
Sounds like a mess, right? While it kinda is, LUCY also works better than you'd think, thanks to Besson clearly being reinvigorated by the potential of the premise. His last movie, THE FAMILY, was shockingly inept and virtually unwatchable, a depressing turn for a guy who used to be considered one of the best action directors in the world. While LUCY certainly won't get him back to where he was, it's a step in the right direction, in that it's often creative, and never, ever, boring.
The whole idea of humans only being able to use 10% of their brains is a lot of hokum, with Besson suggesting that as Lucy is able to use more of her brain (with us frequently getting titles telling us what level she's at – video-game style) she'll essentially become invulnerable. An example comes early on when she forces doctors at gun point to remove the drug pouch that's been sewn into her stomach. One look at the x-rays of a patient is enough to tell her that they're bound to die a horrible, drawn out death, so she calmly executes them in order to end their suffering. This is silly, but it actually sort of works. One of the most novel things Besson does is eschew big fight scenes the more powerful Johansson gets, as what's the point of getting into fisticuffs when you can simply freeze bad guys with your mind?
LUCY actually has a lot in common with TRANSCENDENCE, but this is actually much better. The idea that Lucy could ever lose her empathy as she becomes God-like is sidestepped by a subplot where she coerces a Paris cop (Amr Waked) into following her around so that she can have a constant reminder of her humanity at her side. Furthering the similarities is the fact that Morgan Freeman essentially plays the same part he did in that earlier film, with him being a scientist who conveniently has been researching Lucy's very affliction for years. While TRANSCENDENCE tried to incorporate a love story in order to give it some humanity, Besson skips over any romance in favor of keeping the film tight and lean (it runs a mere ninety minutes with credits), but strangely winds up being a far more compelling film.
Certainly, this is has to be the strangest summer film a big studio has put out in years, as Besson is never subtle in his ambitions for LUCY. These ambitions are often heavy-handed, and sometimes extremely goofy, such as an early scene where Lucy being roughed up by goons is juxtaposed against a pack of lions pouncing on their prey in the jungle. Yet, even at it's goofiest, LUCY is always entertaining thanks to the propulsive pacing (helped by longtime collaborator Eric Serra's excellent score). The only real sour note is that Korean superstar Choi Min-sik (OLDBOY) is utterly wasted in a generic bad guy part, which is a shame.
It'll be interesting to see how the audience that's being drawn-in by the fact that this is being advertised as a Scarlett Johansson action flick will feel about the exceedingly weird movie they'll wind up watching. At the premiere, it was greeted by rather confused applause, although love it or hate it you'll likely never be bored. For that fact alone, LUCY is easily Besson's best film since THE FIFTH ELEMENT, and shows that when he wants to, he can still deliver an extremely entertaining flick.