Whatever happened to Luc Besson? Back when I was a fledgling cinema junkie this self taught filmmaker wowed the world as a integral member of the cinema du look, crafter of cult favourite Subway and aquatic student fave The Big Blue, even while the critics rather sniffily disregarded his films for overemphasising style over substance, of embracing spectacle over character in a manner akin to the American multiplex product of McTiernan, Walter Hill or early Bruckheimer fare. Completests such as I scrambled back to see his little known dystopian debut The Last Battle before we screech to the film which best prefigures his latest release Lucy, before its inevitable Hollywood remake Le Femme Nikita was his first dalliance with a kick-ass female protagonist, and for his last interesting movie. Sure The Fifth Element has its fans but I couldn’t stand it, the visual clutter and incomprehensible script intensified by some horrific casting and performances, but it was a modest hit and spurred him on to an incredibly successful producer career, including the turgid Taxi series and of course the faintly racist Taken franchise. I was however pleasantly surprised by his by-the-numbers yet distinctly moving bio-pic of Aung San Suu Kyi called The Lady, and when the trailer for his undetected latest movie crossed my desktop I was amusingly intrigued, despite my reservations I’m a fan of ScarJo despatching henchmen with ruthless efficiency as much as the next red-bloodied male, so I thought I’d give Luc another chance at the flicks despite the lukewarm initial reviews. Never again as once bitten twice shy, despite a potentially intriguing premise – a drug culled from pregnant women which activates dormant brain power which may usher in a new phase of human evolution – this is a colossally stupid and insulting movie, which soon exhausts its reassuringly short 89 minute run-time.
Presumably selected as some token seduction to the Asian market Lucy opens in a chaotic Taipei, as broad-minded student Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) has been partying hard and fallen into a loose relationship with her dishevelled, slightly suspect new boyfriend. He convinces her to take a locked briefcase into the reception area of the prestigious Westin Hotel (the product placement throughout the film is as intrusive and nauseous as Michael Bay’s Hasbro horror’s) and the goons immediately meld out of the woodwork, execute her boyfriend and spirit her away to the presence of local psychopathic crime-lord Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik, best known as the Octopus feaster of Oldboy). Enlisted to the syndicate whether she likes it or not, Lucy is surgically altered into a walking drug mule along with three other Western sourced victims, hosting a portion of the briefcase contents in her stomach before being retrieved back in Europe, the contraband recovered, and she finally being allowed to resume her devastated life. The slight complication in the mission arrives when she is beaten by some particularly odious hoodlums whom rupture the internal package of her synthetic provisions, releasing the compound CPH4 into her system and slowly enabling new superhuman abilities as the drip-feed of narcotic enhancement elevates her brain power and abilities to incredible and illogical capabilities . This is clumsily conveyed with some utterly unconvincing cut-aways to famed international scientist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman in cheque cashing mode) lecturing his students on the brains alleged untapped potential, interspersed with some globalisation & environmental montages showing just how crazy and diverse life on earth really is maaaannnnn, as the action beats get pummelled into the ground when the emphasis shifts back to Europe and Lucy’s against the clock quest to get the material extracted before she peaks at 100% and potentially dissolves into a mulch of primordial goo.
On the plus side I can admire Lucy’s first half hour as it wastes no time through an accelerated economic efficiency, it powers through the set-up and getting to the clandestine contents of the mysterious briefcase. Alas then the superpowers begin to be wielded and any sense of jeopardy or threat immediately evaporates, as poorly manufactured set-pierces are interspersed with those juvenile allusions to our entire species evolution via sub-Koyaanisqatsi high-speed imagery, these asides are clichéd and dull in the extreme and even offer unwelcome laughter with a furrow browed homo-sapien and risible CGI. With one exception (to give him his dues Besson knows how to stage a car chase) the action scenes spark all the excitement of a wet weekend in Windsor – a fairly catastrophic result for an ostensible action picture – before severely plumping the depths with a plot which becomes more incredulous and insulting as Lucy’s fate attempts to meld the metaphysical with a numb fear of nanotechnology. The inclusion of Freeman intoning his celestial wisdom is a mere prop to some staggeringly risible dialogue and exposition, and although Scarjo tries her best to appear to be some superior complete with robotic enquiry and mechanised figure movement she’s galaxies away from her magnificent turn in Under The Skin.
I kid you not, this is a film which is so unbelievably insulting that a cop whom takes an interest in the case – a plot development which is also used an excuse to shoulder barge in a little romance as of course you can’t possibly have a female lead not be seeking the assistance of a man – has lines such ‘gosh, you made those men fall down with the power of your mind, should I be afraid?’ It also terrifiedly softens up some of the more amusing interludes glimpsed in the trailer with the ‘Do you speak English?’ moment being diluted by an off-camera ‘My leg!!’ snatch of dialogue, another concession to one assumes scared studio executives who can’t possibly accept a ‘hero’ figure willing to kill as part of her quest. I may run the risk of sounding elitist or snooty as those critics whom similarly sneered at Besson’s early work but that’s not my intention, I like and admire a silly yet exciting action movie as much as Michael Haneke’s latest affront to our hypocritical bourgeois comfort, but there is a full locked and loaded hollow-point magazine of difference between a well-engineered formula picture and an actively lazy genre effort, polluted with a barely conceived plot and immature scientific navel gazing. McCarthy and Lennon situated their secret mind-enhancing celebrations by placing Lucy in Sky with Diamonds, Besson gives us a narcotic comedown shivering with depression and a terrible case of the DT’s;