I'm a sucker for a film that shoots for infinity but barely scrapes into the atmosphere. I appreciate the effort and the willingness to do something a little different in order to bring a modicum of ingenuity and interest into a medium that thrives and lives on repetitiveness and creature comfort.
Those are in part the reasons I can't stop thinking about “Lucy” – a cripplingly flawed film buoyed by the joy of its extraordinary ambitions and a cold, steady and all-in-all terrific performance by star Scarlett Johansson.
Before he aims for whatever ambition is truly on his Kanye West-like mind, writer/director Luc Besson begins with the boyfriend of Johansson's titular Lucy forcing her to transport a briefcase filled with a mysterious new drug to the frightening Jang (Min-sik Choi). Because film logic is insane, the tense confrontation concludes with Choi surgically implanting the bags into Johansson and three other unwilling drug mules to transport to various ports in Europe.
The insanity builds up when Johansson is beaten brutally while awaiting transportation to her destination, which causes the bag in her stomach to rip open and unleash the drug into her system. The result is a rapid increase in her brain power and the ensuing incorporation of hyper intelligence, psychic abilities and other superhuman abilities. She uses her newfound skills to seek revenge against Choi and spread her knowledge of the universe to Morgan Freeman, playing Professor Morgan Freeman (the character's real name is immaterial; all that matters is he's Morgan Freeman). She also meets a handsome cop (Amr Waked) during her abbreviated jet-setting adventure.
I alluded to “Lucy” as a flawed film, and its blemishes are large and obvious enough to merit noting. The science behind the film's premise is idiotic (although it sounds pretty convincing coming from Freeman's mouth), and the special effects are haggard, sloppy and definitely picked more for their fiscal friendliness than quality. Besson once again displays his tin ear for English dialogue – a trait shared by other Besson films like “The Professional” and “The Fifth Element” – as well as a major lack of subtlety; the first third of “Lucy” plays like an extended stock footage show, one capable of making Ed Wood drool in jealousy.
And yet, and yet, and yet. I have to use this refrain for “Lucy” multiple times to emphasize how much I admire Besson for his wonderment and his insouciance for taking an audience wherever he wants to go. It's a risky gambit, as putting Besson's name on a project as a writer, director, producer or any combination of the three creates certain expectations of explosive gun fights (or gun fights that end in explosions), stoic leads who speak only when necessary and economical run times – essentially the prototypical action film.
Elements of the first two exist, and the film certainly nails that last factor – “Lucy,” sadly, exists for just 90 minutes of whacked-out bliss – but the first two expectations are more perfunctory and less “Lucy’s” raison d’être. Lord knows neither I nor anyone else should try to delve into the mind of Luc Besson, but the film reads as an exploration of humanity in godhood, and how important it is for the two remain intertwined.
A constant fear Johansson fights through as she gains intelligence and power is the loss of her connection with the human race, which becomes more and more tenuous as the inherent intellectual loneliness of her new existence comes into effect. Given “Lucy's” premise, many filmmakers would opt to turn Lucy into a monster, an unstoppable force hell bent on ridding the world of its sins and ruins like the eponymous Lawnmower Man.
But Besson doesn't take the easy route; instead, Johansson’s Lucy remains aware of her growing divide from mankind and does what she can to keep a modicum of attachment to her fellow humans. A rather passive Waked, for example, tags along to serve as a quasi romantic interest. (It’s rather nice to see a male actor serve that purpose for once.) Lucy’s mission too, morphs from bloody vengeance to intellectual preservation, and she sheds her bloodlust as the movie dives deeper into craziness.
It's a display of tremendous optimism, albeit one that isn't overly surprising when considering Besson's career – even amid the bullet sleets and cool indifference, Besson has always worn his heart on his sleeve and shown his belief that mankind is worth saving in spite of itself.