Lucy is a Sci-Fi thrill ride
3 out of 4 stars
Good old stupid action can catch audiences off guard when they least expect it. With a ridiculous storyline and flimsy characters, one anticipates a lousy time at the movies. But Lucy makes up for its shortcomings with a cheeky charm and high-velocity pace that makes the entire 90 minutes worth your while. Try not to overthink it while you’re watching and you’ll definitely enjoy yourself.
A non-descript girl known as Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) falls victim to her slimy love interest Richard’s (Pilou Asbæk) covert affairs as a “delivery boy.” Forced to bring recreational drugs to a major kingpin named Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi), Lucy soon after finds herself en route to deliver the drugs to America by way of her lower intestines.
An accident causes the drugs to leak into her body and Lucy discovers that they actually are super drugs that allow a human to access up to 100 percent of his or her brain. Lucy quickly goes to a top expert on the subject, Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), who recommends she find a way to pass on all of her accessible knowledge to humanity. Now Lucy must use her newly discovered abilities (and I’ll leave it at that) to fend off Mr. Jang’s hit squad before she dies of an “overdose” in somewhere around 24 hours.
Writer/director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element and The Professional) has become known for his stylized action and his immensely likeable characters, all of which he brings to this endeavor. With the exception of one particularly blurry, confusing car chase scene, he instills the film’s few action sequences with sheer creativity and humor that create a sense of awe. And while his quieter scenes can run too long, he never loses his sense of scene-to-scene pace (this film WILL fly by, count on it).
Besson introduces a strange new tool here that never quite works though. He uses cut-away imagery to drive home dramatic metaphors, almost as a joke. These never really work though because A) they become monotonous and tiresome instead of fresh and creative; and B) he gives up on the trick after about twenty minutes instead of going full throttle with it. Other than these odd moments though, Besson is in top form at the director’s chair here.
Besson has been plugged in this film’s advertisements as “a key creator of strong roles for women.” And he does do it well, let’s not downplay this fact. But we must not forget that he also has a natural, signature panache for tongue-in-cheek action and sci-fi film that almost no one else can recreate.
The wit and quirk within his dialogue keeps Lucy afloat next to the ridiculous premise and over-the-top direction. We never need to second-guess how or why the drugs do what they do because Besson keeps our focus on the central character (a sleight-of-hand trick that helps with the aforementioned sharp pace).
Johansson has always proven to be nothing less than dependable as an actress and Lucy could not be in more capable hands. Before her exposure to the drugs, Lucy is your run-of-the-mill, quick-witted damsel in distress and Johansson handles these scenes well. As soon as she accesses more of her brain, we expect Lucy to become the next “Terminator” in terms of behavior and character development. And to some extent she does become this trope, what with her monotone delivery, inconsistent eye contact, and calculated expression. However, Besson has keenly granted Johansson key dialogue to remind the audience of her humanity, including one inspired scene where Lucy calls her mother. The emotion and intention behind this scene communicates very early on that Lucy has not become a complete robot and that she has intentions that go beyond her self-preservation. Bravo to Besson for keeping this complex character relatable, and the same to Johansson for finding a perfect balance for Lucy’s quirks.
The other characters mostly fall into the background, and I say this as a compliment. Once again, keeping the focus on Lucy allows the pitfalls and tropes of the film, including character development, to become moot next to our concern for Lucy’s well being. Freeman still keeps his straightforward acting style running on all cylinders, but not to the point of distraction. Besson again pulls off a tough tight-wire act in terms of balance and does not let us down in directing his actors.
Look, not every movie needs to be taken 100 percent seriously every single time. This type of over-the-top style has given the world some of the most iconic action flicks, and Besson uses this tool to its best abilities. Sure, there is nothing groundbreaking happening here. But the humor and pacing combined with Johansson’s natural skill as an anchor guarantee that you will never, ever be bored throughout the entire runtime. Dial your brains down to “0” and enjoy watching Lucy dial hers up to “11.”
Please check out our sister website’s review of Lucy at Baltimore Post-Examiner.
Mark McCarver was born and raised in Houston, Texas and has been involved in theater and film since he was a kid. He spent the past few years acting and directing across Texas before moving to Washington, DC in the fall of 2012 to get a taste of the East Coast’s entertainment industry. Mark holds a BA in Drama from Trinity University and trained at the Syracuse University – London Drama Program and Shakespeare’s Globe. He is a company member with Half Mad Theatre in Washington.