Lucy (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Lucy (2014)

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Lucy doesn't make the smartest decisions with her life.  While studying in Taiwan she starts dating a dealer who gets her roped into an international distribution ring of a new drug.  Right when it seems she is going to lose her life to this dilemma she ingests a large quantity of the drug and starts to become...something more.  Luc Besson writes and directs Lucy with a cast starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, and Choi Min-sik.

Just when evolution seems stableLuc Besson is an artist whose projects I've always been a bit cold to.  There's something about his particular brand of energetic direction that underlines the jokes and drama a bit too hard.  Even with all that energy I've never gotten to that transformative stage in his films where there's a sudden "eureka" moment, the curtains of my heart pull back, and I let myself feast on the images.  The images flash, the soundtrack throbs away, and I slink away appreciative of the craft yet bored by the result.

Consider that my admission before ingesting the cocktail of humble pie and hyper-charged amphetamines that Besson's Lucy dishes out.  With the exception of the equally bonkers The Congress, there was nothing else like Lucy released last year and I am disappointed in myself for not taking a risk and seeing this in the theaters when I had the chance.  Besson's work reminded me of the dearly departed Russ Meyer, mixing images, sounds, and emotional beats at such a breakneck pace that it took all I had to keep breathing between scenes.

Does this amazing sensation last through all of Lucy?  No, and even the Meyer-inspired editing and throbbing pulse of the introduction doesn't make it much longer than the first act.  But even when the cut and paste, nature versus nurture, serious fiction versus teenage dreaming phase is over with Besson keeps Lucy humming along with a game performance by Scarlett Johansson and a supporting cast ready to have fun.

I love that Besson banks on the fact that anything can sound plausible coming from Morgan Freeman's mouth.

I love that Besson banks on the fact that almost anything sounds plausible coming from Morgan Freeman's mouth.

Lucy's biggest hurdle is that it's working from a tired premise that gets dragged out every year or so - the idea that we can reach our full potential when we have full and conscious control of our minds.  I've been talking about how this premise is overused since at least 2011, but I have to humble myself again.  For a repeated premise like this it gets a lot of mileage in some entertaining pictures.  What Besson does with Lucy is treat the science behind this idea with 100% sincerity, so Lucy is a farce through and through.

The idea completely settled in what, for me, are the most entertaining sections of Lucy.  While Lucy (Johansson) is getting mixed up in drug shenanigans in China and the action is heating up, Besson cuts to a dry, seemingly unrelated lecture by Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) in another part of the world.  The audience is full of self-satisfied academics who chuckle and look in wonder at the Professor as he explains his theory about the potential of the brain and states directly that this a total fiction, but the audience listens attentively all the same.  The chattering hands and insincere chuckles show a collective emptiness at work within the crowd, and prove, even if someone tells you they're lying, so long as they have the vocal authority of a Morgan Freeman they'll just nod along.

Those are the most subtle moments of humor in Lucy, but they still showcase the energetic editing that Besson loads his montages with.  In barely a few minutes we're watching the dawn of humankind to the camera crossing an idyllic hillside to reveal a modern city.  Images from the distant past and technological present blur with stock footage of nature and flashes of the gorgeous trance film Samsara.  Art, violence, progress, memory - they're all as one from one moment to the next until Lucy has ingested her first dose of the drug that kick starts her evolution.  It's thrilling to watch because we never know quite what loop of culture we'll be thrown into next, be it the high art of a careful dance or the crass humor of two birds caught in flagrante delicto.  No matter the transition, it all has to do with what is preserved through the genetic legacy, and how.

Choi Min-sik's building annoyance then cartoonish anger yields results that are funny and intimidating.

Choi Min-sik's escalation from annoyance to bloody rage yields funny and intimidating results.

Johansson had an amazing year in 2014, and the same unearthly quality she brought to Under the Skin she reproduces here.  Her performance balances on a fine line of understanding and extreme alienation.  The drugs in Lucy's system help her remember things long-forgotten in an immediate way, and in one surprisingly powerful sequence Johansson exposes a raw nerve of memory to show the audience why it's necessary to forget the good times as well as the bad.  Besson backs her up with some ingenious special effects that heighten her terror, or create scenes that are simultaneously anticlimactic and entertaining when we realize what chance a bunch of random toughs would really have against a telekinetic foe (the ironic techno soundtrack surge in this scene drives the point home hilariously).

Besson also showcases why English-language films need not fear an international cast.  Freeman and Johansson represent the stars 'n stripes, but the most welcome addition is the excellent Korean performer Choi Min-sik.  He is a disarming actor, capable of conveying absolute menace while humoring the audience at the same time.  I laughed a lot during his introduction as he takes a break from casual slaughter with the most annoyed expression on his face to deal with this hysterical American.  The way his face conveys deeper levels of impatience as he waits for the seltzer water to wash his hands of blood need no dialogue, and Besson wisely keeps Min-sik's words to a minimum in Lucy so we can enjoy his silent performance.

Lucy was written with science and ethics in mind.  It doesn't say anything potent about either subject, but is clever often enough to engage the intellect along with the senses.  After all, can we trust our genetic legacy with someone who can flip through the universe like a touch-screen phone, or is that simply the way we'll perceive time in the future?  Besson doesn't have an answer, nor does he really try to offer one, and his attempt at conveying out of control evolutionary advancement makes for his most engaging and fun film in two decades.

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Tail - LucyLucy (2014)

Screenplay written and directed by Luc Besson.
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, and Choi Min-sik.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. Absolutely bonkers, but also quite fun, too. And that’s what definitely makes it worth checking out. Good review Andrew.

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