It takes a movie like Lucy to fully reveal the inadequacy of rating a movie on a five point scale…or any other standardized measure, for that matter. In any objective evaluation, it is lacking any number of areas, and I’ll get to some of those in a minute. This is objectively not a good movie, and yet… I enjoyed nearly every moment of it. It’s a B-movie running around in $40 million of Hollywood finery, which is probably what we should have expected from a movie written and directed by Luc Besson.
Lucy stars Scarlett Johansson as Lucy, a vapid, aimless 20-something living in what I initially took to be Japan, but I think was actually supposed to be Singapore. It really doesn’t matter, and neither does what she’s doing there. Pretty soon she’s conned into making a delivery to a crime kingpin, who has all the requisite men in suits and fancy amenities, for her “delivery boy” boyfriend. Things go downhill from there as the drop doesn’t go as planned and she’s forced into being a mule for the crime syndicate.
The helpless girl becomes less so, however, when the baggie of drugs implanted in her stomach bursts and she begins to be able to access higher percentages of her cerebral capacity (off the old, “We only use 10% of our brains,” idea). It’s at about this point that the movie starts intercutting Lucy’s tribulations with Morgan Freeman as professor who researches such things. He’s giving a lecture on brain capacity, which means he’s basically Dr. Exposition so the audience can keep up with the changes Lucy is undergoing. Though for shorthand, you can just think Neo at the end of The Matrix but even more of an expressionless cipher and you’re most of the way there.
It’s funny to juxtapose Scarlett Johansson’s sublime performances in recent movies like Her and Under the Skin (whatever I thought of that movie overall, Johansson was phenomenal) with a movie like this. Both of those films were so concerned with character, with details, with the finer points of performance and theme, and Lucy is, um, not. Oh, Johansson is still pretty good, but she’s hamming it up and she probably knows it. So when drugs start seeping into Lucy and she’s uncontrollably shaking her way across the floor, walls, and ceiling of the cell she’s being kept in, you’re pretty sure Besson’s attention was not on the precise nature of the way Johansson was shaking. Watching her have a seizure across every surface of the room is kind of weird and funny and sort-of-effective all in one, but the movie is way more concerned with the more direct idea: The drugs are reacting inside her body and taking it over.
That’s the beauty of the film. Ok, maybe “beauty” is a strong word, but that’s why I suppose I reacted more positively to this movie when I criticize many others for being derivative. This is undoubtedly a familiar film, one that hits expected action movie beats even when they don’t make much plot sense, but it also introduces just enough visual flair that I said, “Eh, ok,” and rolled with it. When police cars go flipping through the air, the movie might lag a bit with a sense of been there, done that, but when even an on-the-nose attempt is made to marry the creation sequences from The Tree of Life and footage from a Nature special to an action film about far eastern mafia chasing a powerful, but limited heroine, you have to grin a little in appreciation.
Does any of that mean Lucy is perfect? Heck, no. The good mood I had from some enjoyable music during the intro credits was just about ruined by an overactive editing finger in the first scene with Lucy when she argues with her boyfriend about making the delivery for him. There are entire sequences, well, really most of the plot, that make little sense other than as a mechanism for moving things forward particularly the early non-death of a main character when the newly empowered Lucy has previously shown no qualms about killing. There’s plenty to roll your eyes at, and yet…
The Verdict: 3 out of 5
I’ll not be afraid to label this for what it is: a dumb movie. It’s just one that happens to be dumb in what for me were the right kind of ways. This movie is that cheap beer you’ve always got in your fridge because it tastes good enough and sometimes you just need to relax with a stupid grin on your face. Objectively this is not a good movie, and I don’t think anyone would ever confuse it as anything that was actually substantive. This is a movie that defies the usefulness of ratings systems, because there’s no way it’s nearly as good a film as most that end up as a 3 out of 5 here, but I sat through it happily more often than not. It may look like Hollywood, but it’s a B-movie at heart, and half of the fun is enjoying the absurdity as it rolls by in front of you.