Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lucy / **½ (R)

Lucy: Scarlett Johansson
Professor Norman: Morgan Freeman
Mr. Jang: Choi Min-Sik
Pierre Del Rio: Amr Waked

Universal Pictures presents a film written and directed by Luc Besson. Running time: 90 min. Rated R (for strong violence, disturbing images and sexuality).

Luc Besson’s new sci-fi thriller “Lucy” is one of the more interesting action movies to come along recently. It’s one of the more interesting screenplays by Besson since his early films, like “La Femme Nikita”, “The Professional”, and “The Fifth Element”. But then again, the word “interesting” isn’t necessarily the highest compliment you can pay to a film. It’s a tough one to figure, because in some ways it is a great movie. However, in the end it leaves you feeling cheated out one of the two movies to which it couldn’t fully commit.

Like those early films of his, “Lucy” is centered on a strong heroine. Lucy doesn’t start off quite as strong as she becomes. She’s tricked into a situation that lands her in the hands of a dangerous Korean drug lord, Mr. Jang, played by Choi Min-Sik, the star of the original “Oldboy”. After a frightening introduction, she wakes up to find a packet of a new designer drug has been sewn into her intestines. The drug holds the same properties of the chemicals produced in miniscule quantities by pregnant women to promote rapid growth in their children. When the packet begins to leak into her bloodstream, she finds she holds incredible new powers.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to a theoretical scientist, Professor Norman, played by Morgan Freeman. The reason Freeman has been cast in this role is so the audience will believe anything he has to say without question in hopes that no one puts too much thought into it. His field of expertise lies within that notion that we’ve all heard at some time or another, which states that humans have only tapped into about 10 percent of our actual brainpower. His theories are based on the concept that a single cell will make one of two choices depending on environment. It will either choose immortality or reproduction. In a hostile environment, immortality is the logical choice. This is where I believe you’re just supposed to be listening to Freeman’s voice and not really engaging in what he says.

Anyway, somehow that all means that if we were to tap into more of our brain potential, we would awaken the next stages of evolution and become something much more than we already are. It seems that the drug Lucy has absorbed has unlocked that potential. While Norman’s theories suggest some of what is to come for her, he has no idea what might happen once she reaches 100 percent of her brainpower. Scarlett Johansson perfectly embodies every point in Lucy’s evolution.

Unfortunately, the movie seems to split into two. The concepts and ideas being explored by Lucy’s experience expanding her mind are intriguing to say the least, but at the same time Mr. Jang is bound and determined to get his merchandise back. He sends a small army of men across the globe to find her, killing anyone that gets in their way. So, as an audience member you’re trying to wrap your mind around the evolutionary concepts being thrown around and alternately having to shut it all off for mindless action sequences. The action is very well done, including a stunning car chase through the busy streets of Paris. So many cars are destroyed, however, that I had to stop and wonder why an evolutionary leap leaps past any sort of empathy for others. Shouldn’t the carnage left behind in Lucy’s wake be considered with any sort of moral weight?

Directorially, “Lucy” might be Besson’s best effort. Its imagery is on par with the same beauty exhibited in his 1988 film “The Big Blue”, but it’s his editing technique that carries much of the film’s brilliance. During the opening sequences Besson intercuts the action surrounding Lucy with shots of predator and prey in the wild. It isn’t subtle, but it adds excitement to Lucy’s struggle knowing there’s no way those antelope are going to outrun that cheetah.  These images later tie in with the evolution theories that drive the film’s philosophical ideas. Later, when Lucy is traveling through time in the same manner most of us scroll through the pictures on a smart phone, I had to wonder just how some kingpin thug could be any sort of a threat to her anymore.

“Lucy” is thrilling and smart. It is spectacularly directed, and yet it somehow doesn’t quite work. It suffers from an identity crisis. Besson never really decides whether he wants to make a deep philosophical science fiction or one of his more typical action thrillers. Both styles are expertly executed here, but the theories behind the science fiction eventually outrun the action aspects of Besson’s script. There’s a point when the action begins to seem pointless and other points when the scientific themes send the mind reeling. After all the dust had settled, I wished Besson had settled on one or the other, rather than both.

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