Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’ is an absolutely insane attempt to fuse comic book action with grandiose philosophical ideas. The writer/director has failed in his ambitions to be profound, but failed in such ludicrous ways that his movie is almost more entertaining than it would have been if he’d succeeded. ‘Lucy’ is a glorious mess well worth shoving into your eyeholes.
The closest point of comparison between ‘Lucy’ and any other movie is Besson’s own ‘The Fifth Element‘. That was a project he conceived as a teenager and a movie that felt like it was made by a teenager accidentally given a massive blockbuster budget. ‘Lucy’ similarly feels like the type of high-minded action movie that a 12- to 13-year-old might whip up in a fever dream of half remembered TED talks and one too many bowls of sugary breakfast cereal. That Besson as a grown-ass man would commit fully to that same concept is almost admirable. Only he would think it was a good or even plausible idea to fuse the philosophical filmmaking techniques of ‘2001’ or ‘The Tree of Life’ with a vengeance-fueled Eurotrash action flick. More importantly, only he would do it in a 90-minute blast of gunfire, techno beats and rapid-fire imagery. ‘Lucy’ is so singularly and supremely stupid that it’s somewhat sublime.
Scarlett Johansson stars as the title character, a party girl and student living in Taiwan who gets forced by a deadbeat boyfriend to deliver a suitcase to a psychotic gangster (Min-sik Choi from ‘Oldboy’). Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t go well. In fact, Choi surgically shoves a bag of designer drugs into Lucy’s stomach for a little international smuggling. At this point, we’re treated to exposition master Morgan Freeman delivering a lecture about dolphins and evolution and how humans only use 10% of their brains (which isn’t at all true, but never mind that). Why do we hear these things? Well, because that drug bag in Scarlett’s belly starts leaking, and the drugs open up all the untapped potential of her brain. This means that suddenly she has a profound connection to the universe and can learn anything she doesn’t implicitly know by rattling on a laptop at high speed. It also means that she suddenly has a collection of kung-fu, race driving and gun-handling skills that she puts to good use in a flurry of action scenes.
When Besson runs out of set-pieces to exploit that way, Lucy also develops psychic powers. Why, you ask? Because she’s about to evolve to another plain of existence where she’ll learn all of the secrets to life, the universe and everything! But don’t worry, she’s also going to give all of that knowledge to Morgan Freeman on a cosmic data key so that he can share it with the world.
So, Besson has essentially cast Johansson as a cross between Milla Jovovich in ‘The Fifth Element’ and Keanu Reeves in ‘The Matrix’, and the husky voiced, doe-eyed starlet is nearly perfect in that role. She kicks butt and looks dumbfounded at the secrets of the universe in as credible a way as humanly possible, while Freeman does his Dr. Exposition part well and Min-sik Choi does that stoic evil thing again. The central cast all work exquisitely well in their ridiculous roles, and the action scenes (particularly a standout Paris-leveling car chase) work wonders on the senses.
As a work of B-movie bliss, Besson has crafted ‘Lucy’ with the skill and candy-colored excess that we’ve come to know and love him for. As an attempt to craft a head-trip bit of existential sci-fi, the film is undeniably a failure. However, this aspect of the movie fails in such spectacularly and hilariously overwrought ways that it’s almost as entertaining as the cheap thrills that actually work. ‘Lucy’ is a work of absolute madness, but one constructed by such a seasoned and skilled entertainer that it never comes close to feeling boring. It’s not a good movie in a conventional sense, yet it’s also far from a bad one. ‘Lucy’ is one of those movies that demands to be watched in slacked-jawed disbelief at least once just to confirm that it actually exists and isn’t some sort of trashy mirage. It’s kind of wonderful in its own deeply dumb way.