Film review: LUCY from Built For Speed

French director Luc Besson’s energetic, ballsy but occasionally crass and simple-minded action thrillers have left him almost as divisive a figure as Michael Bay.  His latest movie Lucy, which stars Scarlett Johansson, will no doubt provoke vitriolic responses from both supporters and detractors. 

Scarlett Johansson plays Lucy, an innocent American student living in Taipei who has somehow hooked up with a low-life drug dealer. When he lures her into a disastrous deal with Korean gangsters Lucy is forced to transport a pouch containing a powerful and sinister new drug called CPH4.  The pouch isn’t in her carry-on bag, though, it has been surgically implanted in her abdomen. When a violent attack causes the pouch to rupture and the drug to enter her bloodstream and her brain, Lucy undergoes astonishing changes including the development of phenomenal intellectual abilities and telekinetic powers.  As her abilities rapidly increase she attempts to track down the other drug couriers before they meet a horrible fate.

The fact that Lucy relies on the hoary old myth that says we only use 10% of our brains and that accessing the supposedly dormant 90% will unlock near-magical powers, makes the concept behind  this film and just about everything that flows from that, pretty silly.

Lucy is also one of the most derivative films ever to hit the big screen.  Like the Bradley Cooper film Limitless it features in Lucy a character whose brain functions are sent into hyper-drive by a mysterious drug, like the X-men films it features someone with super-human powers including telekinesis and like Transcendence it has authorities scrambling to combat a technologically advanced human.  The film also draws on Besson’s previous violent back catalogue as well as Hong Kong-style gangster flicks.  Besson once again demonstrates his considerable talent for creating slick, hyperkinetic action sequences although these often rely on fetishised violence against and from women.

If nothing else this film looks stunning.  Besson gives the film an exciting fluid motion and cinematographer Thierry Arbogast overlays the action with a vivid glistening surface.  Bong aficionados will be pleased to know that as Lucy acquires control over time and space this film ventures into the same trippy territory as the big bang and dinosaur sequences in Tree Of Life and the celestial gate section of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some of the imagery even recalls brain-bending films like Koyaanisqatsi

This all adds up to a bizarre and often ridiculous mash-up of big concept science film and action thriller which doesn’t completely work in either the action or sci-fi genres but still offers a few thrilling sequences.

In her second role this year as a powerful otherworldly predator, Scarlett Johansson is never entirely convincing and certainly not as compelling as she was in Under the Skin. Her way of conveying someone with massively enhanced intellectual abilities is to stare blankly into space and speak in a smug, nasally monotone voice.  In this film’s other major role Morgan Freeman delivers a typically authoritative and noble performance as a neuroscientist to whom Lucy turns for guidance.  Freeman is always a riveting screen presence, even if he has played this sort of role many times before including in the recent Transcendence.

With some well-staged action and amusingly over the top visuals Lucy is ambitious and ballsy enough for audiences to overlook the film’s outrageously silly central concept and just enjoy the ride.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Science fiction/ action/ drama.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Luc Besson.

Release date: 30th July 2014

Running time: 90 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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