Tuesday, July 29, 2014


The first ten minutes of Lucy, Luc Besson's absolutely berserk new film, will likely reveal your patience for this insane, fever dream mash-up of metaphysical blather and grand spectacle.  We meet American party girl Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), a blonde tart studying abroad in Taipei, and she's being courted (and then some) to courier a briefcase of unknown contents by her sketchy beau-of-the-week.  She does so, delivering this package to the unrepentantly evil Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi, the original Oldboy.)  For an action movie it seems like a fairly standard set-up, like a generic variant of Taken (another Besson property.)  To no surprise, the briefcase contains drugs and Lucy, against her will, becomes a mule carrying the mysterious CPH4, which has been sewn into her abdomen.  The drug leaks and Lucy turns into a god-like creature with the ability to use more than 10% of her brain capacity.  She literary becomes the girl with kaleidoscope eyes.  With me so far?

But there's stranger things afoot.  For starters, Besson's cuts the first sequence with nature footage of wildlife animals luring and attacking their prey.  What is this movie?  When Lucy is offered cash, we cut to a shot of mouse nearing its trap.  Lucy never had a chance from the start, but Lucy is something else entirely-- a nutty exercise in style, one that abandons its generic action film traits nearly as quickly as it establishes them, unleashing a beast of movie, one that if isn't exactly smart, is certainly alluring in its confidence.  Maddening and mined with pseudo-science that might make Neil deGrasse Tyson's head explode, Lucy is strangely exhilarating and nearly unfathomably weird.  Besson throws imagery and madcap violence with such reckless abandon; he's genre bursting to such a heightened degree that Lucy plays like The Tree of Life meets Looney Tunes.

Drug trade cautionary tales and revenge epics are sidelined for a wacky and wild exploration of human consciousness and a grandly absurd treatise of evolution.  If nothing else, Besson, who wrote and directed Lucy deserves plaudits for his ambition, even if the movie seems conceived by stoned dorm kids drooling over next-level profundity.  It's no mistake that Johansson's leading characters shares her namesake with the famed partial skeleton, or perhaps that she was named after the classic Beatles track "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds."  Lucy has one foot planted in scientific inquiry (Morgan Freeman even shows up in nonchalant Morgan Freeman mode to explain things for us) and other squarely footed in drug culture trippiness.

That the film was indeed concocted by the enterprising fifty-something French entrepreneur is but part of Lucy's oddball charm.  For throughout its 90-minute running time, the movie contorts and expands with a daffy, but lithe flexibility, moving so quickly through it's insane (and borderline inane) dribble it's difficult to quibble with its nonsense science and scatter-brained idea.  Brevity, by turn, might be its highest asset.  Yet, there's a giddy, enjoyably looney, propulsive rush to Lucy's hair-brained schematics.   

Besson has always preferred a style over substance aesthetic (and it's true here-- Lucy's depth and insight likely can only come in between bong hits), but one of the shining hallmarks of his somewhat hackneyed career has been a preference toward strong female characters to anchor his spirally dreams, starting with his early 90s breakthrough La Femme Nikita, onwards to Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element, Besson has long fetishized the waif-like warrior.  With Johansson as its icy but determined center, somehow Lucy works in long strides way more effectively than it has any right to.  Which speaks volume about the level of discipline and mastery of mood and control this actress has been able to achieve with her recent film work, but speaks nothing of her exquisite poker face while navigating through the dense silliness of this feature.

As Lucy grows in stature from woman to superwoman (there's handy text to note her progress), she forays into a next wave of evolution, or so Besson suggests.  She also starts losing fragments of her own humanity, marking perhaps an interesting progression to Johansson's filmography of late-- you could collect a box set under the header "The Dehumanizing of Scarlett Johansson" with this film as well as recent entries Under the Skin and Her.  Yet, there's something fitting to this wave of work, considering the actress' over-sized features and innate expressiveness-- it's doesn't quite feel human in the traditional sense.  Which makes her great at the selling the daffy sides of Lucy, such as when she starts crawling on the walls as the drug starts to seep into her central nervous system.  Yet the actress offers an inquisitiveness to Lucy, one that slightly opens the character up without letting the audience fully inside.

There's a great, baroque sequence as Lucy starts to unearth her emerging capabilities.  After escaping the dingy jail she was shackled to (as a drug mule, remember), she breezes into an emergency room, firearms in toe, shoots a man being operated on (he was going to die anyway) and forces a surgeon to expel the drugs still in her stomach.  While being operated on (she's much to smart at this point to feel anything resembling pain), she calls her mother to share her woes and new-found sensations.  She speaks of a pet cat, one that died while she was an infant and her memories of drinking her mothers' breast milk.  It's grand and idiotic, she sounds like she's on mushrooms.  And yet, Johansson with her straight-faced and heartfelt earnestness sells this dopey speech as if it were the realist, most natural thing in the world.

The movie just barely skirts the issue of dealing with all the horrible things Lucy does in the context of the film.  Yes, there's a revenge subplot-- how could she not get back at the horrible thugs who did her wrong, but that's besides the point.  She processes the world differently and at such, the movie insists is operating on a different level, one above law and order and moral codes.  Does it make any sense?  Not really, and truthfully, plot threads feel like they were planted based on how cool they would look and how many colors could be shot at once.  Yet, there's certain poetry to all the dithering, like when Lucy chastely kisses a French police officer just to remind of human connection, or more bizarrely, where she breezes by a group of mobsters and turns them into levitating ballet dancers or when she's able to scroll throughout history as if she were on an iPad.  It's all absolutely ridiculous, but also rather exhilarating to watch unfold.  Because for all its mania, Lucy seems to be in on the joke throughout.  It doesn't play like a self-serious video game, but like a jolly, participatory one.  And perhaps, just because it doesn't look or behave look the majority of cookie-cutter blockbuster wannabes, there's something special about this absolutely gonzo ride of spectacle filmmaking.

Is Lucy a good movie?  I'm not sure, at least not yet.  However, it features a dinosaur and passes the Bechdel Test.  What more could we ask of a summer blockbuster?

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...