As a young man in my early twenties, I spent many nights out exploring the city’s hot spots in search of a woman that could be the next love of my life. I would often glance across a bar or stare across a crowded room and spot bright, attractive and complicated women who at the time offered my bleeding heart a glimmer of hope. As each encounter progressed we would drink, laugh, share insights and by the end, exchange hugs and phone numbers. More times than not the numbers would end up tossed into a pocket or punched into a phone and never followed up on. These encounters were always a pleasant way to spend an hour or two but it was always immediately obvious that these women were not the final destination on the journey to my romantic Shangri-La. Lucy is the cinematic equivalent of these stopgap encounters. Luc Beeson’s sci-fi action flick is bursting with a cacophony of bullets, kung fu and superficial charm that kept me engaged for ninety minutes before disappearing from my world in order to make room for the experience that I was really looking for.
Scarlett Johansson plays “Lucy”, a scattershot American party girl whose uber-douchey boyfriend manipulates into drug muling. The plan becomes complicated when the Korean Mob kidnaps Lucy and forces her to traffic an experimental new drug that they have surgically implanted inside of her body. The bag ruptures during an altercation releasing the chemicals into Lucy’s system setting off a physiological reaction that increases her brain capacity and sends her hurtling forward on an evolutionary journey toward being the apex predator of the human species. Lucy quickly comes to terms with her loss of humanity and begins using her gifts to track down the other drug mules while also sharing her new found enlightenment with scientific community.
As a fan of the genre, I walk into sci-fi films hoping to have my mind blown and this film accomplished that in a roundabout way. What I find mind bending about Lucy is that a film with this much high quality cgi, such intense fight choreography and off the wall car chases can exist for the price of $40 million dollars. Modestly budgeted films like “Lucy”, “John Wick” and “District 9” are proving that slickly produced action and sci-fi franchises do not solely exist in the rarified air of movie studios with 200 million budgets. As much as I love the recent work of Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, the corporate structure of the studios behind the blockbusters that they produce does not lend itself to the imagination, innovation and creative freedom that come along with the sci-fi equivalent of an indie film. A film like “Lucy” leaves me giddy at the prospect of what ambitious genre filmmakers can begin to produce without dealing with the smothering of their creativity that comes with answering to the corporate overlords of big budget films.
My main issue with this film is that it does not provide the audience anything to root for. Lucy is a character who not only begins losing her humanity early in the film; she quickly becomes so powerful that regardless of the threat we never feel as though she is in peril. I can argue that even though I know that Superman isn’t going to get his “ass whooped” in a movie, the stakes are raised at the threat of Jimmy Olsen or Lois Lane being left tied up on railroad in the path of an oncoming train. Lucy fails on this front as well because the supporting cast has about as much to do as a vegan at a pig roast so that we have no reason to care when they fall into harm’s way. The infinitely affable Morgan Freeman’s only purpose in the film is to spout exposition that lets the audience know at what point of the evolutionary journey Lucy is on. Gritty French cop (Amr Waked) who becomes Lucy’s side-kick half way through the film pops into the story as though he was just transplanted from a far more interesting, hard-boiled crime movie. The lack of emotional investment in Lucy’s characters makes the events in the film come across cold and sterile and makes us feel like we are participating in an objective scientific study rather than a compelling emotional journey.
Lucy is a film that does a fantastic job of grabbing our attention but does not have a clue what to say to once it has us. For ninety minutes there was enough gunfights, car chases and karate kicks to keep my brain engaged on a purely visceral level but as soon as the credits rolled the experience slipped into the same murky fringes of recollection where I go when I try to recall 11th grade algebra equations. There is definite irony in knowing that a film that attempts to explore the potential to expand human consciousness is only capable of reaching the part of our brains that are intrigued by bright colors, flashing lights and the trashiest types of reality television.