CAPSULE: LUCY (2014)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Amr Waked,

PLOT: An American student develops godlike powers when she is accidentally dosed with an experimental drug.

Still from Lucy (2014)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: I’m unsure whether Luc Besson is just joshing around here or whether Lucy the worst premise for a seriously intended science fiction movie of the year, but even the sight of Scarlett Johansson morphing into a black tentacle biocomputer can’t compensate for the feeling that you’re using less and less of your cerebral capacity the longer you watch this movie.

COMMENTS: Lucy may be a looney lark, or it may be one of the dumbest sci-fi movies to come down the pike in quite some time. The premise, that human beings have areas of the brain they never use which might house great untapped powers, might have played in the 1970s at the height of the paranormal craze, but in the age of the Internet, everyone who can read an IMDB message board is aware that the old “humans only use 10% of our minds” canard is complete b.s. And of course, even if it were true that you could find ways to utilize more of your “cerebral capacity,” that wouldn’t allow you to flex your neurons on objects located outside your cranium, change your hair color, or commandeer cell phone signals. Lucy‘s plot device is just a trick to give its protagonist whatever magical powers she needs to breeze past her next obstacle. The science in this fiction is on the sophistication level of a Marvel superhero movie, except those omnipotent heroes are always given equally omnipotent villains to square off against. Here, there’s no one in the movie capable of even landing a blow on Lucy from the very first moment she develops her powers, which creates a very odd, tension-free dynamic. It’s somewhat to the film’s credit that this lack of inherent conflict doesn’t completely kill it, but the main way the movie soldiers on is by throwing another action or effects sequence at you every five minutes: Lucy telekinetically flinging gangsters around the room, Lucy commandeering a cop car and putting her 40% optimized cerebral capacity to work stunt driving down the streets of Paris. The movie’s emphasis on action set pieces is completely and ridiculously at odds with its supposed philosophical ruminations about human evolution and the nature of time. It ends with a totally irrelevant bloodbath shootout that makes no logical sense whatsoever.

To his credit, Besson does toss most of his kitchen appliances into the movie, leaving only the sink unthrown. The effects are spectacular and are clearly the only reason for the movie to exist. There’s Lucy’s spontaneous levitation, the curtain of multicolored beams she sees descending from the heavens which she can swipe and manipulate like a cell phone app, and the spectacular moment when her facial molecules inconveniently start to drift apart during an airline flight. Besson includes references to 2001: A Space Odyssey (ape men), The Tree of Life (dinosaurs), and the Sistine Chapel (by way of E.T.). Maybe the strangest touch of all is the revelation that the miracle drug in question is actually a pregnancy hormone (!) The most favorable way to see the movie would be as a Lucy’s dying hallucination as she lies poisoned by the ruptured bag of drugs in her intestine; it would justify a lot of the film’s illogic, and her dopey gnostic omniscience would then appear to be a sly satire on delusions of “consciousness expansion” and chemical enlightenment. Unfortunately, the only serious justification for that reading I can come up with is the fact that Lucy‘s speculations are too ridiculous to be taken seriously on their face.

Around here, we last noted Luc Besson working on The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, a homemade French fantasy with a wealth of imagination undermined by a dime store CGI pterodactyl. The bi-continental auteur, who splits time between Gallic and Hollywood movies, follows up a great fantasy script with laughable effects with a laughable script featuring terrific effects. It’s almost as if he’s deliberately trying to protect stereotypes—American movies are big, dumb, and spectacular, while continental movies are smart but underfunded. C’est la vie, I guess.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the sheer weirdness of Lucy’s imagery—a telekinesis-assisted car chase, a USB stick containing all the knowledge of the universe, people growing animal limbs—prevents it from registering as run-of-the-mill summertime ‘dumb fun.’ It comes across, instead, as a directorial flight of fancy, an imaginatively goofy take on an already goofy idea, exaggerated by Besson’s blunt style and an uncommonly fast pace.”–Ignatiy Vishnevetshy, A.V. Club (contemporaneous)

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