Director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Professional) has brought to moviegoers several of the toughest, kick ass female characters ever to grace the big screen. He goes to that well again with his latest, Lucy. Originally the character of Lucy was to be portrayed by Angelina Jolie, an actress well acquainted with the tough female role. She dropped out and was replaced by Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Chef), who has recently starred in several action films like The Avengers and Iron Man 2. Her character the Black Widow is even slated to have her own film in a couple of years. All this to say that Johansson is familiar with what it takes to do an action film. Oddly enough, she is game, but it is the more experienced Besson who seems to have forgotten how to make an engaging action film.
The thin (very!) story is about an American university student in Taipei who has some designer drugs sewn into her stomach by some unscrupulous types making her an unwilling drug mule and suddenly develops some crazy superpowers. The crazy blue stuff Lucy has in her body has opened up her brain like never before resulting in human intelligence of the sort never seen before. It also result in her being able to control inanimate objects as well as she begins to be able to use more and more of her brain. When Lucy figures out what has happened to her all she uses her newfound abilities for is revenge. Start the body count!
What everyone who paid their money to see this film came to it for was to see some crazy action sequences, special effects and maybe the added bonus of Scarlett Johansson in various states of undress. What they did not come for or even want was a lot of scientific talk (even if it is delivered by Morgan Freeman) that is so nonsensical it almost puts you in a trance. Lucy, the film, becomes an entity that does the opposite of the fictional drug in that it closes down your brain. All the decent action sequences get lost amidst the pseudo-science crap.
At certain points it all got so bad that I was wondering if Besson was going for a parody. Meaning that the awfulness was done on purpose. Then it became apparent that it wasn’t. It is just the time traveling, various animals having sex, Lucy remembering that her mother breast fed her and the fact that a Lucy simian was the mother of us all became all a little too much for me. I had to almost scream “Stop!” out loud due to the nonsensical nature of it all. Aiming for exploring the limits of human intelligence, evolution and what time really is was going for too much in this instance. Know you strengths, Besson! Once he ventures away from the action and towards “science” then he is lost and can never really get back to the good parts. This results in him overcompensating with over-the-top looking effects that just whiz by at breakneck speed.
Luc Besson’s strength is bringing to the screen a mash of Asian gangster films with European styled action. Once I shut off the logical side of my brain that expects films to make sense I was able to enjoy the film on a simply action level. Say what you will about his films but Besson knows how to film fights of the hand to hand and weapons varieties and car chases.
Part of the issue is the acting ability of Miss Johansson. When she is asked to convey real emotion like fear or sadness it is a little out of her comfort zone. When it switches to acting tough and making her ability to kick ass realistic she is back in. This is her wheelhouse. I came to the realization that Johansson is the female version of Keanu Reeves. Looks good and can handle action roles that don’t involve much dialogue or emotion.