Sorry Besson, but we didn't love Lucy
Unlocking the brain, LUC fails to engage
Writer and director Luc Besson has existed, since the late eighties, as something of a bridge between French and American cinema. He made his name with such high-octane thrillers as La Femme Nikita (1990) and Leon: The Professional (1994).
In recent years, following the insufferable mess he made of The Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc (1999), he’s been more prolific as a writer and producer with his Taxi, Taken and Transporter franchises – to name a few.
For those of us who enjoyed Besson’s early offerings, this initially feels like a return to form. La Femme Nikita, one of his early successes about a hit-woman with extraordinary abilities, is woven tightly into the DNA of Lucy – beyond just the title, which is similarly culled from the female protagonist’s name.
Tip of the iceberg
The entire premise is built around the popular myth that the average human has access to just ten percent of their cerebral capacity (you’d do well to just go with this) whereas our protagonist, Lucy (Johansson), after being subjected to the reality altering effects of a newly developed drug, can access increasingly greater portions of her mind’s capabilities.
This enables her to go on an impressive killing spree, wreaking vengeance upon a Chinese crime syndicate who forcibly exposed her to the drug in the first place.
The French Connection
Inexplicably, when given an early opportunity, she elects not to do away with Mr Jang, the gang’s leader (Min-sik Choi) – presumably for no other reason than allowing us to watch his misguided attempts at tracking her down, culminating in a climatic face-off.
She soon enlists the help of Parisian Detective Del Rio (Waked) to find other victims, whose bodies, like hers, have been surgically violated for the purpose of concealing Mr Jang’s new drug and distributing it globally.
King of monologue
The first (and best) third of the film continually intercuts between Lucy’s exploits and a lecture concerning the untapped resources of the brain, delivered at a university by none other than Morgan Freeman (he’s playing a character called Professor Norman, but it’s a standard Morgan Freeman performance) – Hollywood’s go-to voice for spinning long and potentially arse-numbing monologues into compelling ear candy (a skill shared by Matthew McConaughey and very few others).
The point of departure for the film is after these two strands collide and Lucy is able to demonstrate, to Professor Freeman, the accuracy of his long-held theories about the power of the mind. By which time she is able to effortlessly manipulate time and matter...
Besson’s best behind him
Freeman’s presence only highlights the similarities to the less successful, but considerably smarter and narratively tighter Transcendence from earlier this year.
It’s easy to imagine Lucy might have been better served by a more disciplined director, someone like Christopher Nolan or Looper’s Rian Johnson.
In Besson’s hands, it’s a distinctly 90s mish-mash of half-baked ideas, lacking in gravity and executed without the structure or form required to engage us; when a character can do absolutely anything, without any laws or limits, we cease to care.
The welcome pulse of long-time collaborator Eric Serra’s familiar ambiant score, building tension throughout, only serves to remind us of a time when Monsieur Besson would engage us with more than 10% of his talent.
Dir: Luc Besson; France action/sci-fi 2014, 89 mins; Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked
Premiered 7 August