Luc Besson, a director known in equal measures for his genius and notoriety, has been around for a long time. His influence on the last twenty five years of cinema can be felt mainly in the action genre, but even films not associated with him have had his Gallic touch applied. With only a cursory glance at the filmography of the accomplished writer, producer and director, films such as Nikita (remade first with Bridget Fonda as The Assassin and then twice for television), Léon aka The Professional and The Fifth Element spring to mind as examples of his great films with strong female protagonists who mostly leave the lead men floundering behind them, so Lucy, starring current leading lady of the action genre Scarlett Johansson is bound to bring us another classic character. Malheureusement, non
Johansson has been riding the crest of the Hollywood wave in no small part due to her recurring Marvellous role as Agent Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff and with her sex symbol status and fighting ability it would appear that a role as an increasingly powerful meta-human evolving at an exponential rate would be perfectly made for her. Add to this the grandiose Morgan Freeman as the professor providing wisdom and plot exposition and on paper this sounds like a smash hit movie, but that is the downfall. On paper it sounds like it should offer so much, and yet it fails to deliver in so many areas, the stature of the cast and crew make the failing feel even greater.
Courier Richard (The Borgias‘ Pilou Asbæk) is reluctant to deliver a briefcase and wants girlfriend Lucy (Johansson) to do it for him, offering to pay her $500 then desperately handcuffing the case to her, leaving her choice but to and finish the task. Upon entering the hotel lobby she is whisked up to the hotel suite of crime boss Mr. Jang (Asian film veteran Choi Min-sik, best known for his lead role in Oldboy), the owner of the case, where Lucy is promptly knocked out.
In a tale reminiscent of urban legends involving organ traffickers, she awakes on a hotel bed in acute pain and realises she has been operated on, the drug package she was carrying now inserted inside her to make her an unwitting mule, but roughed up by Jang’s henchmen the drugs disperse into her system as the film descends into farce. Flying against the ceiling with more than a passing nod to the vampire transformation of The Lost Boys, the drugs coursing through her system, following a brief and brutal escape in which the unlocking of her brain’s potential has instantaneously granted super strength and expert marksmanship, Lucy visits a hospital where she instructs a doctor to remove the drugs.
Never questioned despite carrying a gun into the hospital or interrupted during the operation, Lucy then places the world’s worst phone call where she tells her mother she remembers everything including being in her womb to which her mother exhibits neither shock nor surprise. Patched up, she goes home to research her condition and locates the world’s pre-eminent mind on the subject, Professor Samuel Norman (Freeman). Flying to Paris to meet with him with Jang in pursuit, the story becomes increasingly juvenile and far-fetched with fight scenes pirated from The Matrix, a tacked-on love story which feels as though it added in the editing suite and an ending which is both ridiculous and incomprehensibly terrible.
Though primarily regarded as a director, Besson has spent more of the past fifteen years producing and writing with Lucy only his sixth live action film since 1999’s The Messenger, and his time away feels like he had been in stasis and emerged to a briefing on currently popular plot and film devices, all of which he decided to throw in without thought. The digital effects are laughably poor, the opening scene looking more dated than a Harryhausen skeleton attack, and several scenes are cut with too literal metaphors of what is happening such as a mouse sniffing the cheese bait on a trap in case it wasn’t already sufficiently clear to the audience.
With poorly executed camerawork it’s hard to believe this is the same director that once provided such stylish cinema, frequent Besson collaborator Éric Serra’s soundtrack is fairly nonexistent, and while those who have seenUnder the Skin know Johansson can act, she chooses not to on this occasion. It has been a long time since a lead role was performed with such a total lack of conviction, at no point investing Lucy with any passion making it difficult to care for her or her fate, and she fails to live up to the expectation set by Besson’s previous leading ladies such as Anne Parillaud, Milla Jovovich and Michelle Yeoh.
Morgan Freeman, playing the same role as in the similarly themed and equally disappointing Transcendence is professional but doesn’t seem enthused, giving a perfunctory performance at best. Amr Waked’s Parisian police captain Pierre Del Rio could have been a pivotal role if given screen time and character development similar to Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element, however here represents the audience, bemused and wondering why they are even on this journey.
Promoted as science fiction, the lack of science is woeful and feels poorly researched, and it isn’t even clear if Besson is trying to use this vehicle to make some sociological point about what mankind has achieved in its time on earth, the inserts of animals and evolution feeling like a student project rather than the vision of a seasoned director, serving instead as a crash course on how not to make a confused and poorly executed mess. For a superior film about unlocking human potential, refer instead to Limitless.