No one has ever accused Luc Besson of being a master filmmaker – despite gems like Léon: the Professional, La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element. Part of that is because he likes to juxtapose things that are utterly real with things that are utterly ridiculous. Usually, that means putting a down-to-earth old school spy next to someone who looks like Emma Peel, or creating an utterly fantastical world and making the lead a real-guy cabbie. With Lucy, he takes three genres – an intense drug thriller, an over-the-top action movie, and a psychedelic would-be philosophical statement – and crams them together in unexpected ways. Somehow, it works.
Generally, it goes like this: average girl Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) gets coerced by her boyfriend (a definite Bono wannabe) to make a delivery for him – a silver case that he handcuffs to her wrist while claiming it’s ‘paperwork.’ Naturally, it’s not paperwork – it’s four bags of a blue powered drug called CPH4. Before you know it, Lucy is waking up with a bag of the stuff in her belly and, along with three rather nondescript guys, sent home to their countries of origin – where they’ll be picked up by company men, the drugs removed and everything will be fine. Or so Korean crimelord Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik) says.
In Lucy’s case, something goes hideously wrong and she finds herself waking up in a cell of some kind with a bunch of Asian men leering at her. When she resists their ‘advances,’ she’s beaten and the bag of CPH4 begins leaking into her system. Cue the onset of weirdness and the end of the drug thriller.
Throughout the film, whatever is happening with Lucy, there’s bits from a lecture by Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) on what might happen if we could access 100% of our brains instead of 10% (the 10% percent thing is a myth, but just go with it).
After behaving like she’s possessed, Lucy settles down and her brain begins to fire on more and more cylinders. When one of her captors comes into the cell with salacious intent, she becomes an action hero. The poor guy (comparatively speaking) never knows what hit him. Hint: it was her. Repeatedly.
With her burgeoning ability, she makes quick work of the rest of her captors and before you know it, she’s learning everything there is to know about everything – and calling Prof. Norman to inform that he’s on the right track – even though his work is primitive. She announces she will be in Paris, where he’s lecturing, in twelve hours.
First she disposes of Mr. Jang’s personal bodyguard and does enough damage to him that it’s remarkable that he can even move, let alone follow her to Paris. Paris, where she makes the acquaintance of a cop, Del Rio (Amr Waked) – whom she had also called to alert him to the arrival of the drug mules in three European capitals.
This leads into a shootout to rival any ever captured on film, while Lucy meets with Prof. Norman and his handpicked groups of experts to study her. And from here, it gets really weird.
In a way, watching Lucy is like going in to see The Transporter and having it turn into The Matrix, or 2001, two-thirds of the way through. It’s disconcerting, unsettling and utterly exhilarating.
Because Besson is working from a flawed premise, any logic he might have been attempting to follow evaporates. All that really matters is that Lucy moves from beginning to end with a frenetic, heart-stopping pace that will either make you go ‘Cool!’ or ‘Eeew!’ For me, it was the former, but I’ve been a Besson fan since Léon: The Professional.
No matter what you’re expecting, Besson’s films – with the exception of the Aung San Suu Kyi bio-flick, The Lady – are always a ride. Even his animated Arthur trilogy is a full tilt experience.
It might be because he’s Gallic, or because he’s just doing $#!+ he loves, but Besson’s films have an incredible sense of joy to them. I expect he has even more fun making them than his audience has watching them.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that he gets first-rate actors to star in them. With all the wildness to Lucy, Scarlett Johansson makes us believe that she is a real person – like Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element or Jean Reno in Léon: The Professional. Even when Lucy becomes something else on the evolutionary scale, Johannson finds a way to keep her relatable.
On the Big Drink Drink Scale, I had a full third of my large caffeinated soda left when the credits began to roll.
Lucy is a mess – but it’s a magnificent, Luc Besson mess.
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Photos by Jessica Forde/Courtesy of Universal Pictures