Luc Besson is a polarizing figure in international cinema, clearly adored — or at least patronized — by loads of action fans yet pushing genre and stylistic boundaries until he often obliterates his films.
Critics and many other moviegoers recoil from movies made by this Frenchman who seemingly is trying to beat American genre moviemakers at their own game. He mixes up action, sci-fi, martial arts and revenge melodramas with strong heroes and very often to his credit heroines but loses control of his narratives.
In “Lucy” he goes so far out on the limb in genre-bending action and speculative fiction that critics will have a field day ravaging a film that embraces excess as a luxury good.
One often speaks of plot holes in such movies but in this case the entire movie is one big hole. Plot and characters have been dumped with magnificent glee down a rabbit hole of illogic and surreality. On one level nothing makes sense; on another it does in a Marvel Comics-meets-Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde sort of way.
With Scarlett Johansson, one of today’s smarter, more talented and visually alluring actresses, top-billed, “Lucy” might shake up the box office this Friday. In many respects, this film is also a natural outgrowth of his first big success, “La Femme Nikita,” about a female assassin.
“Lucy” has an intriguing science-fiction concept yet makes no pretense of staying in that mode but rather diverts this runaway train into “production values” overkill.
The film itself begins on no less than three tracks. On one you witness a pseudo-documentary akin to the opening sequences in “2001” or those in “The Tree of Life” wherein an early hominid sips water from a running stream while in other cuts you see the predatory instincts of animals up and down the food chain.
This more or less turns into a serious lecture in Paris by Prof. Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) that in itself is mostly nonsense but is required to acquaint audiences with the fact that humans made little use of their brain’s potential.
The professor then makes a speculative stab, which even he labels as “science fiction,” about what would happen if someone unlocked 100% of brain capacity.
Track three is that person, Lucy (Johansson), who is somehow living in Taiwan and making poor choices in boyfriends. Her current loser has dragged Lucy into the sphere of vicious Korean criminals who drug and kidnap her.
While unconscious, the arch villain (Choi Min-sik of “Oldboy”), has cut her open and loaded into her body a synthetic substance to transport to Europe as a new party drug that will make him millions.
But the drug, CPH4, a natural substance pregnant women produce in the sixth week of natal development, leaks and, voilà, Lucy becomes an unwilling test case for what happens when brain capacity leaps forward every hour.
Soon she has developed superhuman traits such as telepathy, telekinesis, vast knowledge, many languages and control over matter. In other words, she’s a Marvel Comics superwoman with a more believable backstory.
She tracks down Prof. Norman on all his electronic devises in his Paris hotel room — a flatscreen TV, smart phone, tablets and for all I know telepathic networks — to see if he can help.
He really only helps Besson the screenwriter as the professor is here as an official explainer and facilitator with little narrative involvement. For that she recruits French police captain Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked) who mostly looks on with drop-jawed expressions.
She makes her way to Paris and here I must strenuously object to a plot hole that even in this convoluted reality makes no sense.
Besson has created a superwoman who can levitate, see everyone’s physical ailments with a touch, sense the entire world with her fingertips and foresee every eventuality yet needs to board a commercial airliner to get to Paris?
At this juncture, in Paris, the movie goes off the rails with a huge body count, carnage in Paris traffic and an FX overload that belongs to the next remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” This is where critics will have their field day and it’s not undeserved
Meanwhile Lucy is growing colder and less human due to her new superhuman traits. Why anyone hires Johansson to play a robotic human in the latter stages of a movie is a mystery.
What Besson doesn’t seem to get is that he dreams up really good genre-action ideas but his carry through is really crappy. Most of the entire third act is just stupid, not a thought through exploration of the original intriguing premise.
Press notes cite renowned scientists he consulted. If he did then why did he turn his back on all this to create a second-rate Marvel Comics finale?
Disappointing is what “Lucy” is. The lack of self-control is staggering. Does Besson really want to be the French Michael Bay?
The only half-way amusing aspect to the absurd third act is that accidentally — Besson had no way to know this, of course — “Lucy” functions as a perfectly acceptable prequel to Spike Jonze’s “Her.”
Opens: July 25, 2014 (Universal Pictures)
Production companies: Universal presents a EuropaCorp with TF1 Films and the participation of Canal+, Ciné+ and TF1
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min Sik, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbaek, Analeigh Tipton
Director/screenwriter: Luc Besson
Producer: Virginie Besson-Silla
Executive producer: Marc Shmuger
Director of photography: Thierry Arbogast
Production designer: Hugues Tissandier
Music: Eric Serra
Costume designer: Olivier Beriot
Editor: Julien Rey
R rating, 90 minutes