Review: Lucy – Insane and brainless but hugely entertaining
LUCY is the dumbest film I have ever seen. It is astonishingly, astoundingly, magnificently stupid on every conceivable level; never have I sat through a big-budget film in the cinema with my jaw an inch off the floor, cackling like a hyena throughout. Lucy is a pioneer in the field of ‘so-stupid-it’s-awesome’, finding new and elating ways to dumbfound you, to beat you over the head with its profound dunderheaded stupidity. The profundity of stupidity on display is, quite simply, breathtaking.
Grappling with the central (entirely urban-mythic) premise that humans only use 10% of their full brain capacity, director/writer/editor/producer Luc Besson – author of such classics as Leon and The Fifth Element – decides to deliver us his own version of Terence Malick’s Tree of Life, only he forgot to add in the brain. The grey matter dribbled out of this screenplay a long time ago, resulting in an insane piece of conceptual hogwash clustered around underdeveloped cardboard characters that would have been laughed right out of The Transporter. It is, however, entertaining as balls. Quite whether Besson intended for his film to be this boneheaded remains a mystery, but what it lacks in brains it makes up for in laughs.
Instead of smarts we get the titular Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) accidentally ingesting some super drugs that enable her to bend the space-time continuum because brain capacity while bumbling around Taiwan, Rome and Paris. Elsewhere, Morgan Freeman is Dr. Wise Black Exposition (AKA Morgan Freeman) and Choi Min-sik is shockingly wasted in his first Western role as the bored leader of the world’s least inconspicuous drug cartel. Amr Waked also turns up as a police detective who, according to Besson, “represents you and me, the audience”, presumably indicating that Waked’s stonefaced confusion is an accurate approximation of the audience’s expressions when watching the film.
While Besson’s script is mesmerising in its flagrant disregard of physics, common sense or coherence, the action sequences are fantastic. By this point the man has mastered the art of the action scene and Lucy is no exception. Two notable moments come when Lucy and Detective Stoneface are hurtling down Parisian streets as an endless stream of cars either swerve around them or are hurled aside by Lucy’s telekinetic powers.
Another comes when one of Min-sik’s nameless henchmen powerslides, Pick of Destiny-style, down a corridor while firing a rocket launcher. Every action sequence packs real punch, brims with verve and, thankfully, is devoid of the CG malaise that dominates modern action films. It’s just a shame there’s absolutely no tension whatsoever due to Lucy’s increasingly godlike abilities.
Said CG is, of course, used in abundance for Lucy’s more psychic experiences. At 40% brain capacity (it only goes up from there) she starts disintegrating in a Sandman fashion on a plane. Prior to that she is gifted with The Matrix Neo-Vision, perceiving everything as pure information. Later still she, no joke, travels through space-time itself.
Ignoring the rampant, hilarious stupidity on display, the effects work by Industrial Light and Magic (with contributions from Rodeo FX) is nothing short of spectacular, particularly during an end sequence that strongly resembles 2001: A Space Odyssey’s ‘lightshow’ on crack. Éric Serra’s soundtrack is by turns bombastic and galumphing, sweeping through god choirs and thumping drums with all the brashness of Lucy herself.
Perhaps Johansson took the role as an equaliser to the cerebral stare-a-thon of Under the Skin, but there’s no evidence of her phoning it in. She’s on fine form, lurching effortlessly from initial rabbit-eyed terror to total emotional absence within the first 20 minutes. One of the side-effects of godhood is apparently the gradual draining of human emotion; in a phone call to her (terribly voice-acted) mother on the operating table – as she’s being operated on, no less – Johansson nails a powerful speech about memory and love as she teeters on the cusp of losing that grounding human element.
Though the rest of the film requires little for her to do beyond clinical sociopathy, she does a good job with some very limited material, an especially satisfying fact when she’s in nearly every scene. She’s the only character who receives any development or depth beyond a one-line description and even then she’s short-changed by both script and spectacle.
Lucy is, obviously, complete nonsense. It has a terrible script, paper-thin characters and a logical hole you could throw a mountain through (not to mention some hilariously juvenile animal symbolism). It’s also incredibly well-made with a strong lead performance, superb visuals and a great walloping soundtrack. First and foremost, however, it’s fantastically, dizzyingly entertaining in its charming insanity, even if it does take a little while to warm up. It’s certainly one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences of the summer; just leave your brain at the door.