'Lucy' review: The dumbest smart movie of summer 2014
This heady action-thriller is the oddest juxtaposition of intriguing existential musings wrapped in one of the silliest (bordering on stupidest) stories this year.
In short: Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) -- a young party girl who uses 10 percent of her brain (like all people) -- is forced to mule drugs for a ruthless Taiwanese mob. But when the implanted, experimental drug leaks inside her body, Lucy quickly unlocks more of her brain's capacity, giving her extra abilities. (Watch the trailer)
This latest flick from director Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element" and "Léon: The Professional") is thought provoking, but the cost of telling a story without much heart or humanity.
But in its desperate bid to join the ranks of philosophically profound sci-fi flicks (ie, "The Matrix," "Blade Runner" and "Her"), "Lucy" is all talk and slim on everything else that makes a film great: characters, story and dramatic stakes.
The titular character instantly becomes less interesting the moment she gains her supernatural powers. Lucy is not merely super-powered - she becomes increasingly god-like as the film progresses. As her powers increase, Lucy becomes less and less interesting because she cannot be hurt. Armies of heavily armed mobsters pose absolutely zero threat to Lucy - and invulnerable heroes are terribly boring.
Naturally, one would assume Lucy's normal allies would become the relatable characters the audience can connect with - but none of them matter either. Lucy's presumptive best friend pops up for one random scene - then she disappears, never to be referred to again. Some random French police detective gets roped into Lucy's narrative, but his entire story value is explained in a lazy, single line of dialogue. Her most prominent ally is a scientist (played by Morgan Freeman) researching the brain's potential - but he's little more than a convenient exposition device whose actions have little to no impact on the overall narrative. He talks a lot, but he has virtually no impact on the plot.
Find showtimes for "Lucy"
This film cares so little about its characters that the cutthroat Taiwan mobster antagonist might be the only character whose fate actually matters to any degree. To that end, Lucy systematically kills scores of mobsters -- yet she resists killing the most dangerous characters.
This frustrating trend is not line with Lucy's actions; she remorselessly kills and endangers criminals, innocent folk and law enforcement officials alike. Keeping one-dimensional villains alive is just a cheap ploy to continue driving the "plot" forward.
Regarding the plot - it's really hard to tell what this movie is about. The entire mob angle of "Lucy" is just a flawed conflict device that's supposed to ratchet up the tension and it's completely unrelated to Lucy's internal drive to find her purpose.
Then there's the whole "humans only use 10 percent of their brain" concept - an urban legend that has been debunked time and again. This "10 percent" theory is an essential cornerstone of "Lucy" but its important details are glossed over in favor of equally shallow philosophical ideas.
Lucy's set of abilities - which range from apparent omniscience, matter manipulation and even crazier powers - are vaguely-defined at best. Her increasing range of powers is lazily explained as "using more of her brain's capacity = powers" - but "Lucy" makes no effort in explaining the correlation between increased brain power and matter manipulation. Why using even 20 percent of her brain allows Lucy to defy gravity is never addressed. What if a person used 100 percent of the capacity of their liver or gallbladder? "Lucy" never attempts to contemplate the brain's apparent importance relative to the laws of nature. Why does using 100 percent of the brain empower any person with power over the fundamental laws of physics, as opposed to say, using 100 percent of the liver's potential?
In the end, "Lucy" comes off as little more than a bizarrely underdeveloped CGI exercise parroting "deep" thoughts on existing.
Final verdict: The best aspects of "Lucy" -- its cerebral statements on existence and purpose -- can be found in any philosophical book on existentialism. Everything else is a "action" film without dramatic stakes and an "adventure" that wanders and winds around to its unsatisfying, obvious conclusion.
"Lucy" hits theaters nationwide July 25. The 90-film is rated R for "strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality."