‘Lucy’ not up to usual Luc Besson standards

By Christopher K. Conner

Scarlett Johansson stars in the title role of Luc Besson’s “Lucy.” The setup for the film begins as Lucy is first asked, then finally forced by Richard, her short-term boyfriend, to deliver a locked briefcase to a Mr. Jang. Richard is concerned that his frequent appearances might be drawing attention and wants to have Lucy take a turn to throw any observers off the trail.

Inside the building, Lucy goes to the receptionist and says she has a delivery for Mr. Jang. Lucy is collected by a bunch of men and deposited upstairs where she realizes just how much trouble Richard has gotten her into.

After calling a translator to communicate with Lucy via speakerphone for Mr. Jang (Min-Sik Choi), Jang writes a number on a piece of paper then leaves the room. The number is the combination to the briefcase and the preparations of the other men lets Lucy know they suspect the case might be wired to explode. Forced to choose between a bullet or a bomb, Lucy opens the case which contains bags of blue crystals.

The translator informs Lucy that Mr. Jang is offering her a job. She refuses and is knocked unconscious. Lucy awakes in pain and feels a fresh wound on her side. She is brought from the bedroom to the office where a British man explains that a package containing CPH4 has been inserted into her lower abdomen. She and four other mules will transport the drugs around the world and be collected at the other end by Jang’s men, where they will be compensated for their trouble.

Each mule is given a passport and tickets to different countries in Europe. Lucy ends up chained in a cell where she is beaten for refusing the advances of one of Jang’s men. In the beating, the bag in her ruptures, leaking the drug into her system. Lucy convulses as the drug travels through her body.

Meanwhile, at a conference in Paris, Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) is delivering the opening speech. He describes how the capacity of the brain is vastly more than humans currently use. Estimating that our current brains are only operating at ten percent capacity, he hypothesizes what abilities humans would have at higher usage.

Doubling brain usage should give a person complete knowledge and control of their own bodies. Adding another ten percent would let people start to control other life forms. Finally at 40%, matter would be at human command.

Lucy has changed. She no longer feels the pain of her wounds and she seems to have complete control over her movements. She also exhibits a cold, calculating expression instead of the worried look she’s had up to this point.

Using the fine control of her body she is able to escape her cell and proceeds to kill all of her guards. She forces a surgical staff to remove the package from her abdomen and heads to her friend’s apartment where she quickly does some research and notices that her perceptions now extend to the bodies of others.

Lucy contacts Prof. Norman and by demonstrating her ability to control electromagnetic waves, convinces him that she is, in fact, using more of her brain than normal. Lucy heads to Paris to meet with Norman. She also uses her abilities to tip off Parisian authorities to the other mules headed to Europe. Lucy realizes her body is using CPH4 as a kind of fuel. When it runs out, her own rapidly reproducing cells will evacuate, trying to find other sources.

Also heading to Europe, Mr. Jang and his men are preparing to take out the monster they created and reclaim the rest of the CPH4 that is the future of their drugs business. The mules are captured by authorities and transferred to Paris where the drugs will be removed.

On the flight to Paris, Lucy suffers the effects of CPH4 starvation. To reverse the process, she takes more of the drug but passes out and is captured by the Parisian police. Sedated to a point that should have kept her under for an extended period of time, her heightened state allows her to wake up after a few minutes. She then collects the drugs and convinces Captain Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked) to come with her.

Having limited time, Lucy meets with Norman who has collected a number of scientists to witness her and consider the options. Lucy decides that she needs to use the rest of the CPH4 to complete her transformation and pass the knowledge she gains back to the scientists. At the same time, the French police will try to hold off Jang and his men. The question being, will the transformation complete before Jang gets his revenge, and what will Lucy become when her brain is at full capacity?

Luc Besson has written and directed a number of films that live on my list of favorites. “The Fifth Element,” “La Femme Nikita” and “Léon: the Professional” are three, listed in descending order based on the number of times I’ve rewatched them. “Lucy” is unlikely to make that list.

As an experiences science fiction consumer, I’m accustomed to overlooking certain scientific failures. Some may argue this shouldn’t be necessary, but too often it is. Making it through Lucy requires accepting that in the world of this film, humans really do only use ten percent of their brain. Plus, knowledge in and of its self grants control. With a sufficient level of perception, you will inherently how to manipulate. Accepting these two fallacies to allow the story to continue didn’t make the film any easier to watch.

While occasionally laugh inducing, the nature interludes sprinkled through the film were on the verge of childish. Much of the film felt like Besson screaming “look how clever I am” to the audience. An obvious point like Lucy sharing a name with the famous Australopithecus aferensis skeleton would have been better left a subtle point, not something Richard needed to say out loud.

Johansson was more convincing as the frightened and clueless early Lucy than the all-knowing, inhuman super Lucy. The focus of her character’s transformation seemed to be distraction. That distraction seemed to be the only thing to explain why she didn’t just put everyone to sleep and do what she wanted to do without a violent climax. It didn’t work, and the climax felt so staged and false that I just wanted it to be over to see if the punchline could save the rest of the film.

I went in to “Lucy” hoping to see another good Besson film. I was hoping a good film would reward turning my brain off for a few minutes. I will have to wait for some other Besson film to live up to that expectation.

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