French writer/director Luc Besson is best known for creating hard bent female characters like Nikita, as well as The Professional staring a kid Natalie Portman. However, he’s turned more towards writing and producing in recent years and his directorial pieces haven’t really been anything to write home about. With Lucy it appears as if he’s stepping back into the shoes everyone thought he wore, but they don’t seem to take him too far. It’s an interesting enough idea, but it seems torn between two sides: the one that wants to get into the psychology and intellect behind the development of a “smarter” human brain, and that which just wants to show off some cool action and have a good time. The script feels undercooked, and as entertaining as it can be, Besson is never able to reconcile his two dueling halves.
A big problem may be that it starts on the wrong foot as American student Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), who’s living in Taiwan, is bullied into delivering a mysterious case. Why she’s in Taiwain is never explained or hinted at, and while it’s not a detrimental fact to understand, it manifests the direction Besson wants to take, which is that of a B-film. The problem is that the plot develops as something deeper. After Lucy delivers the case to Kang (Choi Min-sik), an obvious mobster, she’s forced into being a drug mule for a new synthetic drug. Sewn into her stomach, the bag eventually breaks and her body absorbs it. She soon experiences an increased brain capacity, and finds her intellect rising.
That right there sounds like a great B-flick. Just don’t dwell on the sci-fi elements so much. But, Besson decides to shoehorn in Morgan Freeman as Professor Norman, who studies theories based around the increased use of the human brain. As he explains in a lecture, with no tie to the actual story and is almost glorified narration to give Lucy’s story context, humans only use 10% of their brains, what if they used more? Setting aside the fact that that notion is itself a myth — this is sci-fi, afterall — Norman’s place within the story only acts as a way to deal with the intellectual ideas behind Lucy’s increased mental capacity. If Besson could have kept the story contained to Lucy, which soons turns into an all out war between Lucy and Kang, it could have been something entertaining with a bit of an abstract bend. Instead, Besson wants to really say something about the state of humanity through Lucy’s ascension into something greater.
And yet, for all of it’s flaws, it’s hard not to like. Besson shows off his flair for action and there’s a glimpse of what originally put him on the map. His terse scenes are contained and he knows how to get the audience’s heart pumping. Unfortunately, he can’t sustain the suspense and, despite running a brisk 89 minutes, Norman’s story, among other scenes, are just a distraction from what’s really engaging. It feels way too tangential, and not because the first third is filled with quick cuts to scenes of nature — including a montage of animals getting it on. Lucy has it’s likeable moments, but it’s just too much of a mess to be something greater.
Rating: 3 out of 5