Monday, 4 August 2014

Lucy (2014/US/France)

Julien Faddoul

** (2 Stars)

wd – Luc Besson
m – Eric Serra
ph – Thierry Arbogast
pd – Hugues Tissandier
cos – Olivier Bériot

p – Virginie Silla-Besson

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbæk, Analeigh Tipton, Nicolas Phongpheth

Lucy is not the kind of movie that should be examined lightly. Even if it has a premise as ludicrous and over-calculated as this one. By which I mean, one can detect the pulpiness of the material and organize their mind accordingly. I would accept the response of anyone who disliked the film on those grounds alone, but there's something quite brilliant about Luc Besson’s latest film that paradoxically can only exist adjacent to the silliness.

The premise is born from the idea that humans use only 10% of their brain’s capacity, a ridiculous myth circulated to us from the schoolyard days of our youth. Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is, through a series of circumstances, kidnapped by a Korean drug lord (Min-sik Choi) who decides to use Lucy as a mule and to hold a pouch of blue crystal powder sewn into her abdomen. As this occurs, Mr Besson hilariously intercuts back and forth with wildlife footage of a cheetah chasing an antelope. This is after opening his film with the Australopithecus (otherwise known as Lucy) drinking from a stream. 

Lucy and 3 other men have been selected to distribute this drug to specific parts of the country for unspecified reasons. The drug, CPH4, we find out is a chemical women produce for a brief moment in tiny doses when pregnant as a catalyst for the fetus. Sure, why not.

Unfortunately for the bad guys, one of the guards repeatedly kicks Lucy in the stomach (trust me, it’s pretty funny), which causes the pouch to break, and the drug enters Lucy’s system. This immediately gives her the power to pulverize, climb walls and shoot people with total precision. If this doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry because Mr Besson casts Morgan Freeman in the part of crackpot explainer. We know that Lucy is behaving this way due to accessing more of her brain’s capacity because Mr Besson cuts to a lecture in a French university performed by Professor Samuel Norman (Freeman), who clarifies the different stages man can reach when able to access greater percentages, all while his audience conveniently asks hyper-plot-specific questions.

The sequences that materialize as a result are a glorious mix of ridiculousness and splendor. These include Lucy performing surgery on herself, an act of painful revenge set to Mozart’s Requiem Mass, an absurd car-chase through the streets of Paris and a riotous mockery of the kind of fight choreography that is now prevalent in all superhero cinema.

In regards to the plot, characters and situations, Lucy is lathered in a thin slice of alert sentience. The cast and crew are aware of the dopiness. It is philosophical dumbness in the service of cinematic smartness. Something like The Tree of Life (2011) meets The Paperboy (2012). In regard to Mr Besson’s handling of the form, it is deliciously risky. What happens to Lucy and the end of the film when she reaches 100% isn’t delicious because of its profundity (which it isn’t) but because of its nerve. We cheer the attempt instead of the result.

Johansson, Freeman and Choi aren’t really adding anything here, though many critics have taken it upon themselves to recognize a thread within Ms Johansson current work that expresses an interest in the sub-human.

A film this simple can best be appreciated by a fairly sophisticated viewer, I think. Your run-of-the-mill workaday moviegoer will relate to it on Level One and think it contains clichés and stereotypes. But Mr Besson, whom I’ve never liked until now, exudes an understanding and respect for genre-cinema that I can’t help but admire. I believe others will too.

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