Lucy, a recent film directed by Luc Besson and starring Scarlett Johansson, did all right at the box office, beating Hercules in the week of July 27th. But the tired and uninspired story is not much more than theater filler at the end of the day [insert joke about the molecules of the universe here].
Lucy is an unknown but scrappy street urchin who we meet on the streets of Taiwan, arguing with her shady and very greasy boyfriend. She’s messy and hungover and wearing a tight dress. She is maybe a prostitute. Shady boyfriend convinces her, eventually through force, to take a suitcase into a fancy looking office building and drop it off. Of course things go terribly wrong, and she quickly finds herself in the midst of a drug smuggling operation that needs a mule.
Besson cuts these first scenes of Lucy being dragged into the situation with wildlife videos of jungle cats stalking and eating gazelles. It’s not exactly groundbreaking but it’s at least interesting. I imagine Besson shrugging modestly and going “eh, I was trying something new.” Unfortunately it’s really one of the very few interesting touches in the entire film.
“Lucy” slugs along to a number of improbable and seemingly unimportant plot points, asking an extreme amount of suspension of disbelief from the audience while giving nothing. Lucy ingests large amounts of this experimental drug on accident and becomes a Neo-esque god, making the internet really fast and tapping into cellphone conversations that for some reason look like lines of code. For some reason: Lucy becomes less empathetic and more prone to senseless violence the more she ingests the drug. For some reason: the entire knowledge of the universe can fit on a flash drive that sparkles. For some reason: we are supposed to care about any of the characters in this film.
Morgan Freeman has an odd stint as a professor of chemistry (??) who also does research on the brain and touts the awful and untrue “Humans only use 10% of their brain” theory that is literally the reasoning of the entire film. He gives a lecture on the subject at the beginning of the film that drags on way too long and loses points for having engaged and interested students. We know they are all really on their smartphones through class. He stumbles through the lecture like reading off of queue cards and can’t seem to muster up any excitement through the rest of the film.
The film grinds through an endless number of cliches that just seem shameful at this point. The most recent influence is “Limitless” (2011) and then we’ll stretch back to the “Matrix “(1999) all the way to “Akira” which was TWENTY-SIX fucking years ago. What I’m saying is: this story has been told already, lots of times, and why are you doing it again, Besson? For reasons not very clear and that happen incredibly quickly, Lucy can control all communication waves, can move people about with her mind, and can travel through time. Any of this would be very interesting if even an attempt were made at explaining it, or if we truly dug into some fascinating stuff about physics, time, and the mutability of matter. I am genuinely interested in these things! Sadly, “Cosmos” invokes a sense of wonder and possibility far better than “Lucy” can even dream.
Confession: I really liked “Limitless”! It is a movie that knows EXACTLY what it is and gains strength from that. The humor is great and understated, the problems are human and understandable, the wish-fulfillment feels real. They actually try to give explanations as to why certain things happen in the movie’s own universe. It is good enough that we can actually get to an interesting discussion about the bigger themes, to start: let’s compare Eddie’s pre-medication self with his final, realized, ideal self. What does shlubby wannabe writer say about us in the 21st century?
“Lucy” doesn’t even begin to get there. We have no idea who she is and why she’s hanging out in Taiwan for most of the movie. Johansson tries this horrible affectation of a, well, affected person, maybe somewhere on the autism spectrum, who doesn’t make eye contact, talks in monotone, and has weird tics while explaining her new god-like state. Compelling stuff, George Lucas can’t wait to hire her.
The only good parts of the film come from the small moments of humor: a bumbling padre of French cops (led by Amr Waked whose character seems to be left on the cutting room floor), a nurse’s face as she backs out of Lucy’s hospital room, a mob boss rushing the opening of a bomb because he has other things to do. I wish Besson would stick to these small, humorous moments instead of wading into scifi cliches. He should know better.
That’s really what truly has my ire: I wanted to like it so much! I love “The Professional” and acknowledge that “The Fifth Element” is beloved, and Besson has great style. I keep giving Johansson a chance, I don’t know why. This movie had potential to be good. There is no reason it should end up an uninteresting, jumbled mess of a story with no real heart.
Here are some interesting things to do with a story like this. Actually give me an interesting theory on the beginning of the universe and the cause of the big bang. Draw parallels between Lucy’s capacity as a woman to have a baby versus “reproducing” on a cellular/god-like level. Have the protagonist become MORE attuned to humanity and human emotions as they gain powers, instead of becoming a murdering automaton. Last: write actual interesting characters.
I guess “Lucy” isn’t a bad way to pass an afternoon watching cable, but I personally wouldn’t waste the time. The world itself is far too fascinating and marvelous to tell boring stories. Shame on Besson. I’m off to rewatch “Limitless.”