Have you ever seen a movie so invested in its premise you end up liking it despite its flaws? I like being surprised. As a guy who sees a lot of movies, I’ve come to terms with a few grim realities of my profession—one being that I’m rarely surprised by a movie.
The vast majority of films released in theaters come with months, if not years, of news stories. We hear about movies from the moment they are conceptualized. We hear about whatever actor or actress signs on to star. Then there are the influx of trailers released on YouTube. Few movies could be called “surprises” in a day and age when every aspect of production and marketing is heavily scrutinized prior to release.
“Lucy” is a pleasant surprise. It’s a movie I knew little of until commercials started into heavy rotation over the last few weeks. Each uses Morgan Freeman’s familiar voice to push the idea that humans only use 10 percent of their brain. Lucy ingests a chemical agent which allows her to access a significantly higher portion. She begins to radically evolve into something beyond human. For some reason, her development comes accompanied by a lot of guns and violence with Asian gangsters. The strange, hack-and-slash style marketing made me think this was going to be a mess. The gun-toting hotness of ScarJo (Scarlett Johansson), the narration of Morgan Freeman implying some science fiction, and violent Asian gangsters led me to question: How could this work?
Director Luc Besson (“The Professional”) turns this interesting scenario into an eccentric and relentless cartoon of broad ideas; it compels. The movie also is helped by rapid-fire pace and some intriguing framing devices.
The film introduces Lucy, a student drifting through life and hanging with the wrong crowd. She gets into an unfortunate situation: A briefcase is handcuffed to her wrist, and she has to deliver it to a devious Asian gangster. The contents are an experimental synthetic drug that renders a freakish high by jumpstarting your brain. Lucy is taken hostage, cut open and the bag is surgically implanted in her for transport. As a drug mule, she can transport the product without being caught. When the drugs start leaking into her system, unintended side effects surface.
We all have heard the expression: “We only use 10 percent of our brains.” Actually, it isn’t true. We utilize a greater portion of our brain but only operate with about 10 percent at a time. Still, Besson plays with science fiction not science fact.
As the drug seeps into Lucy’s system, she gains enlightenment and heightened abilities. At first she’s merely super observant and becomes faster. As her brain ratchets up 10 percent at a time, she gets smarter and stronger but loses more of her humanity. She realizes there’s a finite amount of time before her evolution ends up being fatal.
Lucy journeys to recover the remaining stashes of the super drug and contacts Doctor Samuel (Freeman), a scientist whose research may be able to save her life. The only thing standing between Lucy and universal enlightenment are the armed gangsters trying to hunt her down. It’s an interesting mash-up of high-concept and brainless fun.
There are so many strange moments in “Lucy,” it almost feels like something from the mad mind of Terry Gilliam (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Life of Brian”). The director works on weird levels, recalling some of his more bizarre movies, like “The Fifth Element.” He’s not afraid to get a little ridiculous to keep audiences entertained.
The film’s conclusion is both odd and satisfying. Lucy’s journey ends up taking her through an acid trip of space and time. It’s not perfect, but “Lucy” was a surprise. I can honestly say there isn’t a film like it out there right now. Like “Snowpiercer,” it picks a direction and goes with it. It is uninhibited, fearless and at times completely nuts. In my book, that justifies its existence. I wish I had more experiences at the cinema like “Lucy.” Movies that try to be different and refuse to apologize for it.
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman and Min-sik Choi
Directed by Luc Besson