Thursday, August 7, 2014

Lucy (2014)

Director: Luc Besson                                     Writer: Luc Besson
Film Score: Eric Serra                                   Cinematography: Thierry Arbogast
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi and Amr Waked

Films about philosophical contemplation don’t usually do well at the box office. Being a huge fan of Luc Besson, I wanted to like Lucy more than I did. Besson is tremendous with crime films in all their permutations, but when he edges over into science-fiction he’s not nearly as successful. In fact, the only film of his that I haven’t really liked is The Fifth Element. And while computer graphics and advances in film technology have allowed him to realize his vision here more fully, he’s still left at the end with very little. The concept here is about brainpower, and the fact that humans use little more than ten percent of the brain’s actual cellular power. Besson’s musing, then, is what would happen if someone were actually able to use all one hundred percent. What would that look like? Scarlett Johansson is Besson’s first leggy blonde who isn’t leggy, and who is American instead of European, but she was a great choice for the film, as well as giving it much more box office staying power in the States.

The film begins in typical crime drama territory, with Johansson’s new boyfriend, Pilou Asbæk, asking her to deliver a briefcase to a client at a high-end Taipei hotel. She’s not stupid, however, and refuses. But when his begging and pleading doesn’t work he handcuffs her to the briefcase and she’s forced to go inside. Just as the men working for Min-sik Choi come to grab her, Asbæk is shot and she is whisked into an elevator. Upstairs there are dead bodies in the other room, Johansson pukes, and she is told to open the case while the men hide behind bulletproof shields. Naturally Johansson is scared out of her mind as there is blood everywhere, but opens the case to reveal some new kind of drug. When she finally gets her courage back she is knocked out cold and wakes up with a surgical scar on her stomach and the drugs in the briefcase inside her now. Surgeon Julian Rhind-Tutt tells her and three men who are also carrying drugs inside them that they will be mules for Choi, picked up at their destinations when they arrive. Johansson never makes it to the airport, however, and when she is beaten in jail the bag of drugs inside her opens up and things begin to change.

At the same time, neuroscientist Morgan Freeman is giving a lecture to college students about the function of the brain. The relatively low amount of brain usage that humans access is fertile ground for speculation by scientists. Freeman has theorized up to something like forty percent, but when a student asks him what would happen if someone could use one hundred percent of their brain, he says he has absolutely no idea what that would look like. The drugs in Johansson, however, manage to do exactly that, and as she makes her way to Freeman the percentage of her brainpower continues to increase, with miraculous results. There are all kinds of speculations in the film, from control over pain and other people, to control over matter itself. Time is an important concept in the film as well, though it would have been nice to spend more than an hour and a half with Lucy. The minor flaw in the film is the lack of character development for Johansson. There are glimmers, but too little to attach us emotionally to her either in the beginning when she’s scared out of her mind or in the second half after she transforms. The major flaw is the ending. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the final minutes offer very little to viewers in terms of what the point of the film ultimately is.

Scarlett Johansson makes a terrific “Besson Girl,” seemingly vacuous at the beginning of the film but brilliant by the end. She loses her emotions along the way, which is unfortunate, but that is another point Besson is making about the mind. Morgan Freeman gives a surprisingly subtle performance, a scientist who isn’t bent on scientific conquest and who simply wants to understand. Min-sik Choi is the villain, moving his new drug through highly unorthodox methods and her confrontation with him in the middle of the film is another plot hole that doesn’t seem to have an answer. Amr Waked is new to me, very good as the French police detective that Johansson trusts and takes along with her. There’s not much that’s new in the film. Elements of The Matrix are a bit difficult to avoid, and there are superficially similarities to the film Limitless. Some critics have trashed the film for that, but they’re missing the point. The Luc Besson touch is what the film is all about, action, violence, crime, and exotic locations. It’s lesser Besson, to be sure, but die-hard fans will appreciate Lucy for its familiar conventions and forgive the flaws. Casual fans may not be so generous.

No comments:

Post a Comment