Published Jul 25, 2014Under the Skin was the art-house Scarlett Johansson sci-fi turn. It was a near masterpiece, and consequently the more populist Lucy became hotly anticipated as another sci-fi effort that would make her the next big female action star. But if it does succeed at the box office (Variety predicts it will outdraw Hercules), it won't be from repeat viewers.
The titular Lucy is shanghaied by a gang with inexhaustible resources for violence and corruption. A bag of experimental drugs that unleash human potential is sewn into her intestines. The bag bursts. Cue the 24-hour revenge mission. Cartoonish and garish, this sickly sweet confection is stomach turning from the outset. There's one joke that's hammered home in scene after scene: "This chick can do anything." Crack squads of heavily armed gangsters on her trail? She makes them all fall down. She wants to drive the wrong way on the freeway? She moves the other cars with her mind. Wow, neat!
On paper, the concept is an intriguing mix of Limitless and Die Hard. In practise, it fails in every conceivable way. Not only does director Luc Besson waste the talent of his cast, but he manages to make even the venerable Morgan Freeman sound like an over-enunciating rube in a community theatre production. In fairness to Freeman, it's hard to imagine anyone who could make the line, "A next generation super computer, I presume," sound natural. Jump cuts that contrast human behaviour with lesser-evolved creatures offer a half-baked thesis statement.
For all its faults, there's massive ambition at play in Lucy. Unfortunately, that ambition only results in sophomoric philosophizing and bone-headed pseudoscience. When Freeman, as a world class scientist, lectures about humans only using 10% of their brains, and what might happen if 40% or 50% were unleashed, a fellow academic asks, "Is this just a theory, or has it been proven?" Where'd that guy get his PhD? That Besson has the sole writing credit is thus the film's gravest sin. Had Besson set his ego aside, a few rewrites by capable writers could have cleaned up this $40 million mess.