D: Luc Besson / 89m
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbæk, Analeigh Tipton
In Taiwan, Lucy (Johansson) is coerced by her week-long boyfriend, Richard (Asbæk) into delivering a mysterious briefcase to a man called Mr Jang (Choi) at his hotel. While she waits in reception, she sees Richard killed outside, and then finds herself grabbed and brought to Jang’s room. The briefcase is opened to reveal four bags of a blue substance. The substance is tested on a drug addict who is then shot dead by Jang. He then offers Lucy a job; she refuses and is knocked unconscious. When she comes to, she finds she’s been operated on. She’s taken to a room where there are three men who are in the same situation as she is. Jang’s plan is explained to them: each has a bag of the blue substance inside them. They will travel to various European destinations where the bags will be removed and they will be paid for their trouble.
Lucy is taken to a cell where she is chained to a wall. She antagonises one of her captors and he kicks her repeatedly in the stomach, causing the bag inside her to split and release the blue substance into her body. When another of her captors returns, she overpowers him and escapes; she is shot in the process but is able to remove the bullet without feeling any pain. She goes to a nearby hospital where she forces a surgeon to remove the bag inside her. When she tells him it’s something called CPH4, he tells her that it’s something produced by pregnant women at around six weeks that provides nutrients for a foetus. He also tells her that she’s lucky to be alive with that much CPH4 having leaked into her.
Lucy returns to Jang’s hotel room where she learns the destinations of the three men. She then visits a friend, Caroline (Tipton), and uses her laptop in order to find out about brain function. She learns about the research of Professor Samuel Norman (Freeman), and with her new abilities allowing her to manipulate electronic systems, contacts him via the television in his hotel room in Paris. She tells him what she’s able to do and how her brain function is increasing in leaps and bounds, and that she’ll be there to see him in person in twelve hours. At the airport she contacts French police officer Pierre Del Rio (Waked) and tells him about the drug mules, and convinces him to have them picked up when they land in Rome, Berlin and Paris respectively.
In Paris, and with the drug mules all in French police custody, they are taken to a hospital to have the bags removed. Jang’s men arrive and grab the bags but Lucy incapacitates them and steals them back. She and Del Rio head for the university where Norman has assembled some of his colleagues. Jang and his men follow them and while a pitched battle breaks out in the university between the police and Jang’s men, Lucy ingests a synthesised version of the CPH4 that sees her take the next step in what has become, for Lucy at least, her evolution.
At the end of Lucy, French policeman Del Rio asks perpetually puzzled Professor Norman, “where is she?” The answer is displayed on his mobile phone – viewers will have already guessed the answer – but it’s indicative of the movie’s less than well thought out idea about brain function that it effectively challenges not only our notions of evolution but of God as well. If Lucy’s use of one hundred per cent of her brain means she no longer exists in human form but continues to live on some other plane of existence, then Besson (directing his own script) seems to be saying we all have the potential to be omnipotent and all-seeing. If he is, then it means Lucy is perhaps the most philosophical and metaphysical action movie ever created.
However, while Besson is clearly a moviemaker who likes to have fun with his audiences, Lucy is not one of his better efforts, ending up as a ragbag of ideas that doesn’t make any coherent (or cohesive) sense and which often gives the impression that, like Brian in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, “He’s making it up as he goes along”. As Lucy’s brain function expands towards one hundred per cent, she has a variety of experiences that apparently come and go, or can be turned on and off at will (and with very little effort). These experiences also happen independently of one another, as if Besson had a tick list of cool effects he wanted to use at each stage of Lucy’s “development” (on the plane to Paris, Lucy begins to disintegrate, but the reason for this is never satisfactorily explained – but, again, it looks cool). With this “anything goes” approach it’s to Besson’s credit that Lucy becomes less and less of an action heroine as the movie progresses, content in its later stages to just incapacitate Jang’s men and to leave the shootouts and the bloodshed to the French police.
It’s this undermining of accepted action movie devices that adds a level of originality and cleverness to proceedings – witness the car chase sequence where Lucy, driving for the first time, is merely in a hurry to get to the hospital and is unconcerned about the police cars that are trying to stop her; she’s not even trying to outrun them – but the movie’s best moment by far is perhaps it’s quietest, Lucy talking to her mother on the phone and trying to explain how she can feel things like the heat leaving her body before saying goodbye to her for the last time. Johansson is hypnotic in this scene, and she’s equally good throughout, her questing gaze hinting at secrets that only she can see; it’s hard now to think of another actress in the role.
The rest of the cast are reduced to virtual walk-ons in Besson’s version of The Lucy Show. Freeman essays another of his bemused expert roles but to even lesser effect than usual, while Choi (still refusing to learn English for a role) plays the urbane gangster Jang with a great deal of muted style. Waked is little more than a bystander, and Rhind-Tutt comes in for one scene to explain Jang’s dastardly plot before disappearing back from whence he came.
On the whole, Lucy feels like an experiment in cinematic form that was forced to conform to the demands of mainstream movie-making, and as such, falls between the two disciplines. It’s a shame, because if it had had a more judiciously constructed script, Lucy could have been 2014’s most adventurous and challenging action movie.
Rating: 5/10 – with far more intriguing ideas and concepts about the meaning of existence than it knows what to do with, Lucy is too uneven to be completely effective; but as an action movie with a mind-bending twist, Besson should be applauded for at least trying to be different.