An unwilling drug mule obtains superhuman powers when the illicit cargo leaks into her body. Stars Scarlett Johansson.
It’s so easy to pick apart the gaping the plot-holes and scientific flaws in Luc Besson’s latest flight of fancy, Lucy. But to get mired down in such details would be to miss out on a whole lot of fun with this audacious and stylish sci-fi thriller from the French writer-director (Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita). Besson may be famous for putting style over substance, but oh what style it is, and how refreshing to watch a commercial action director going for broke and risking the mockery that’s bound to result from decisions such as intercutting a kidnap scene with a piece of wildlife footage of a cheetah stalking an antelope.
The antelope here is Lucy (Scarlett Johansson). A not-too-bright university student who has hooked up with a party-boy in Taipei, Lucy is all bleached hair, tacky clothes and smudged eyeliner. Thrown into the midst of a bad drug deal, she finds herself at the mercy of an evil cartel magnate, Mr. Jang (Choi Min-Sik, of Oldboy fame). Trailing a bloody tangle of bodies, and washing his crimson hands with a bottle of Evian water, Jang clearly means business. Lucy finds herself slit open at the abdomen and implanted with a pack of violet-coloured powder which she’s ordered to mule back to the US. What is this drug and why is it so dangerous and valuable? We soon find out when the pack leaks into Lucy’s bloodstream and, after an initial epileptic-like seizure, she starts to develop extraordinary intellectual powers that turn her into a kick-ass action heroine, complete with stiletto heels and eyelet-leather mini-dress.
As Lucy turns superhero, adjacent scenes show a dignified and famous neuroscientist (Morgan Freeman) giving a lecture about how humans only use 10 percent of their brain capacity (a common unscientific fallacy, by the way). He hypothesises from the podium about what might happen if we utilised 20 percent of our brains (like dolphins) or even more. (We’d learn how to echolocate, for a start!) Lucy, it turns out, is the living embodiment of the theory, and as she hits 20, 30, 50 and eventually 100 percent (all shown in big numbers to divide the scenes and let us know how much more of this brisk 89 minute film we’ve got to go), we see her powers extend to reading minds, controlling electronic devices, absorbing information at the speed of light and telekinetically moving objects through space and time. All the while the increasingly robotic young woman is evading the evil Asian drug minions who are chasing her. Strangely, they don’t take the drug themselves, thus precluding them from developing their own super-powers. But who cares about such logic when the action scenes are this balletic and self-consciously cool? A spectacular car chase (complete with multiple pile-ups and smashes) through the centre of Paris is particularly wow-worthy, and adding a human element to these scenes is Amr Waked, who nicely plays a wide-eyed Parisan cop, the hawk-eyed witness to the wonder that is Lucy.
A funky electronic score with dashes of ethereal choral music, composed by frequent Besson collaborator Eric Serra, creates an exciting and otherworldly mood, especially for the gorgeous CG scenes representing increasingly horrifying bodily processes. Cells divide and multiply, light spews out of Lucy’s mouth and her face begins to melt; time and space warp and congeal and she’s suddenly back with the dinosaurs, or meeting a prehistoric ape-woman creature. The cinematography (by Besson regular, Thierry Arbogast) is mobile, energetic and beautiful. We’re reminded, in passing, of other ambitious and philosophically rich visual treats like The Tree of Life, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even The Matrix. The ideas here are so much sillier and less developed and the comparisons do Lucy no favours. Still, taken as ridiculously good-looking fun, this superior popcorn action thriller works so well.