Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lucy



Lucy is a special kind of disappointment. It's the sort of disappointment best reserved for overblown action movies. You know the ones, the bright, promising looking ones that lure you in with a sharply cut trailer and convince you there's a glimmer of self-aware possibility below that glossy surface.  When you get there, though, you sink further and further into disappointment.  The sentience never shows itself, so you resign yourself to being simply disappointed and to trying to enjoy the fact the film is so much of a letdown. That's what Lucy is: disappointment with a creamy chocolate center of more disappointment, and if there's a word for this, the Germans surely have it. In the meantime, the film is a train wreck of overblown pseudo-scientific philosophy and good old ultraviolence.  It's maybe the stupidest movie about hyper-intelligence, and so bizarrely straight-faced in its approach that it's hard to tell whether the film doesn't get its own joke or simply isn't including the audience.  
 
Lucy reads like the result of a film student's drug-addled fever dream, in this case, our student is hopped up somewhere between Kill Bill Tarantino and an intro course on human biology.  You can practically hear the late night, frantic meditations in every over-montaged sequence, the long talks in which small minds are blown by the possibilities of what happens beyond that set percentage.  When we get to 25% of our brain's capacity, what will we be capable of? Controlling our molecules? Acquiring language skills instantaneously?  When we get to 30%, can we control the growth of our hair? Do we become shape-shifters?  At 100%, do we vomit light? Do we become a god capable of bending the laws of time and space?  Do we control the matrix?  Lucy is, naturally, a science fiction that suggests that with the right key, we can indeed acquire god-like powers. In a weak parallel with the "first woman," our test case is named Lucy (Scarlett Johansson).  She's a run of the mill girl abroad, partying and hooking up with folks she shouldn't.  And when the wrong dalliance finds her playing drug mule to a crime syndicate, a large quantity of mind-expanding drugs leaks into her blood stream and delivers the evolutionary sucker punch we've been - apparently- lacking. 
The result is a trip down the psycho-babble rabbit hole, and the problem with Lucy is perhaps less that the science is illogical and more that it keeps insisting on using it as a key plot device.  Every superhero has their origins, and while we can run with a radioactive spider-bite in passing, it becomes tougher to stay with the story when each turn is reinforced by a scientist making note of the possibilities or theorizing on what the next stage might be.  So, Lucy puts its ideas up front and too frequently forgets that the character is our link to the concept.  Lucy herself quickly shifts from a normal, responsive human to a sort of distant automaton.  Any trace of empathy disappears from her as soon as she hits that first brain cell bump, and as bad ass as she may be, it's a bit hard to side with a heroine who shoots a bystander point blank for not complying with her wishes but who then allows the boss badguy to, well, live.

As Scarlett Johansson ascends from pushover weakling to all-powerful untouchable, she becomes something less than benevolent overlord.  She's out for revenge, running for her life, on a clock, and - for some reason- reaching out to old doctors to pass on her new information.  We have only Morgan Freeman's Professor Norman to lead us through the chaos, and as the film crams the universe into 90-minutes, Lucy quickly becomes too big for the confines of the story, its setting, and its relative genre.  Though Luc Besson keeps the wreckage candy colored and entertaining, the eye rolling is frequent.   Lucy's content seems meant for a more overtly sci-fi environment, something more like the future realm of The Fifth Element (where, it's worth noting, another girl-shaped super weapon lurked) or Akira and less reliant on spliced in nature footage. As it is, it's an exhausting mash-up of ideas and influences.  And if you dare to think beyond the moment?  You'll deflate the whole damn thing.


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