The advertising campaign for director Luc Besson's latest film, Lucy, focused on the film's perpetuation of the myth that humans use only 10% of their brains. This pseudoscience has been around for decades, and has been the subject of numerous other films, the most famous of which is the ridiculously dumb 2011 film Limitless. No doubt, this is a big selling point for the film to countless people who still believe that's true, but to anyone that actually utilizes more than 10% of their brain, the film seemed hopelessly stupid. Could it rise above such low expectations, or would it be another in a long line of terrible movies that seem to think that they're smarter than they actually are? Read on to find out...
Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is an American living in Taipei and dating a flaky drug dealer (Pilou Asbæk). When he tricks Lucy into delivering a mysterious suitcase to a mysterious and high-powered criminal named Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi), he ends up getting Lucy involved in a world she was not prepared for. Jang uses Lucy, and a number of other people, as drug mules to deliver an experimental new drug to the major cities of Europe by stashing inside their abdomens. When Lucy runs afoul of some toughs, one of whom kicks her repeatedly in the stomach, the pouch of drugs inside her breaks open and enters into her bloodstream, causing her to gain power over unused portions of her brain.
At the same time, Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) is delivering a lecture on how humans only use 10% of their brains, and begins to hypothesize what the human brain would be capable of at various percentages of use. Lucy discovers his work and attempts to track him down to better help him understand what a human can actually do with increased brain capacity. She must also find the other drug mules and retrieve the additional supply of the drug inside them to help her continue expanding her mind, but she's in a race against time as Jang wants his drugs to be delivered safely to the dealers.
The most surprising thing about Lucy is how it manages to let the audience know from literally minute one that it's going to revel in stupidity, but it's going to do so intentionally. I must admit that I was baffled by the first ten minutes or so, because it seemed as if it thought it was a deep and insightful look at nonsensical pseudoscience, when in actuality it was trying to signal to the audience that it was pure nonsense. I am not ashamed to to admit that I wasn't giving Luc Besson enough credit to create an actual fun, dumb movie, and I thought that he had deluded himself into thinking the 10% myth was actually true. The amount of absurd things that happen in this film show that he is intentionally messing with the audience and flipping the script on them.
Lucy is a breath of fresh air in a summer filled with mindless action films that think they have something to say when in actuality they're even dumber than a rock. This film is gloriously stupid, and I mean that as high praise. The film belongs comfortably in the company of films like Crank and its sequel, and 2011's Drive Angry as a self aware dumb action movie. The key to the film's success is that it's actually a very smartly made film. It is well aware of how dumb it is, and it continues to push the boundaries of believability to see if you're willing to keep pace. I daresay that the very audience that will enjoy it the most is the audience most likely to avoid it for fear that it will take itself too seriously. In the wrong director's hands, the film could have been an unmitigated catastrophe, but Besson knows he's past the point of making high art (if he was ever at that point at any time in his career) and for once plays right into the audience's expectations rather than falling victim to them.
Scarlett Johansson is terrific in the film, nicely combining her ass-kicking prowess of her work for Marvel Studios with the stoic seriousness of her recent triumph in Under the Skin. She continues to surprise every time out of the gate lately, and she perfectly achieves what she sets out to do. Besson's shrewdest bit of casting, however, was having Morgan Freeman play the doctor who spouts off absurd talking points throughout the first half hour of the film. It lends the film the sort of faux-respectability it needs to perfectly subvert your expectations. Freeman's absolute dedication to the drivel he has to spout off makes the film that much better, and is a perfect example of how well Besson knew exactly what kind of film he was making. Min-sik Choi was also a welcome addition to the cast, and played his cartoonishly unstoppable villain with all the aplomb he's brought to his much more subdued work with Chan-wook Park.
Besson is back in top form here as well, instantly erasing the terrible memories of last year's The Family. As a matter of fact, it only makes that film, and his work on it, look worse in retrospect because he could have been having a lot more fun with a premise that was equally absurd. Besson's never been the kind of director to dig below the surface in his films, and he seems gloriously aware of that with this film. The action set pieces are a wonder to behold, from a crack car chase through the streets of Paris to a hilariously awful use of a rocket launcher. He similarly manages to work wonders when he further subverts expectations by having Lucy use ridiculous mind powers to avoid a lengthy action sequence. It's a top notch piece of directing.
Make no mistake about it, Lucy is a stupid, stupid movie, but it's also insanely fun. It's remarkably well-paced, never lagging for a moment, and anytime it takes a diversion into explaining the the remarkable new abilities that Lucy will gain with increased brain capacity, it gets even dumber and more fun. It's the kind of film that feels like it was written by someone who audited a Philosophy 101 course and only attended class while high out of their minds. It's full of ideas and explanations that go nowhere and bait the audience into thinking that it's deep when actually it's dumb as a rock. Lucy is not a good movie, but it is fantastically fun.
GO Rating: 3.5/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]