Generally, I dislike films that pull a bait-and-switch by advertising one thing but delivering something else. I expected "Million Dollar Baby" to be about a female boxer, not euthanasia. I expected most of "28 Days" to showcase the antics of a loveable-but-irresponsible sister who's always the life of the party, not follow her around in rehab while she tries to shake her alcohol addiction.
Given that background, I was wary when "Lucy" took a breather from the action to hypothesize about life, human motivation and the universe. However, the film manages to stay somewhat on track, and the action remains prevalent, even if it sometimes feels like a distraction from the primary goal of exploring more cerebral stuff.
Scarlett Johansson plays the title character, a hard-partying young woman who's studying in Taipei, Taiwan. She's forced to become a drug mule for a Korean mobster, Mr. Jang (Oldboy's Choi Min-sik), who tasks his henchmen with sewing a bag of a potent drug into her lower abdomen. The bag bursts, causing the drug to spread into her system. Things get interesting when Lucy finds that the drug allows her to harness more of her brain's capabilities. (Of course, this is all predicated on the idea that humans only use 10% of their brain capacity.) Meanwhile, Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) is lecturing at a Parisian university about what using 100% of your brain would entail. It's all theoretical, but he's the world's leading researcher on the topic, so Lucy seeks him out for help.
The film clocks in at a sleek 88 minutes. Given the glacial speed of Freeman's speech and director Luc Besson's desire to continually show how the drug is coursing through Lucy's system, a lot of time is wasted. That means the actual movie content is about an hour at most. Despite the short running time, the action isn't tight and focused, but the film certainly doesn't overstay its welcome.
Professor Norman's lecture about the human brain consists of simple, everyday words that the average person can understand. Because of that and the soothing timbre of Freeman's voice, it's easy to feel like you're digesting the words when they're just going in one ear and out the other. This makes it easy to tune out for the talky bits of the movie while you wait for the next action scenes. It's this quality, such as it is, that helps the film stay focused on the action instead of veering off course with a bunch of existential jargon.
Besson directed "Leon" and "The Fifth Element," and he wrote the screenplays for all of the "Taken" and "Transporter" movies, so he's no stranger to the action genre. The car chase scene was pretty intense, and it was impressive to watch some vehicles crash and flip into a Parisian open-air marketplace.
Johansson continues her streak as ass-kicker extraordinaire (see: Captain America: The Winter Soldier). As Lucy unlocks more of her brain's capacity, she loses more of her humanity, so by the end of the film, she's speaking in a monotone to convey that. Should that be considered good acting, though? The jury is still out on that one.
Amr Waked has a thankless role. Although he plays a French policeman, he's basically been tasked with protecting a woman who doesn't need to be protected. He is amazed and slightly confused by her — and terrified, during the car chase sequence — but if he's not shooting a gun at some Korean gangsters, he's looking at her with a funny expression on his face. That's his total contribution to the film.
The movie has a very appealing visual component, and no, guys, I'm not just talking about Johansson. When Lucy is forced to become a drug mule, the scenes are interspersed with National Geographic footage of a cheetah stalking and capturing its prey. Scenes of Professor Norman talking about the brain's capabilities are spliced with Lucy actually performing those feats. As she unlocks more of her brain, she can see people's data streams, which look very Matrix-esque, and isolate them from the rest of the noise in the world. There's an interesting part where Lucy manipulates time to see New York at different stages throughout history, and she even manages to float in space above the Earth. While these scenes look really cool, it's difficult to identify their purpose, aside from aesthetics.
"Lucy" began with a strong premise, but it seemed that Besson, who also penned the screenplay, didn't know how to end the tale. As a result, the last 10 minutes of the movie flounder a bit and lose momentum, and the ending is both abrupt and strange. If you trim away the fat, there's about enough content for one 42-minute television episode, but what remains is compelling enough for the audience to want to overlook its flaws.
"Lucy" is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 28 minutes. It is showing in 2-D.
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