I never expected Luc Besson’s Lucy to be good in any normal sense of the term, but I did think it would be so harebrained that it might provide 90 minutes of unintended amusement. Well, it most assuredly is harebrained. In fact, that’s an insult to rabbits of all kinds. This is more like amoeba-brained, or maybe amoebas-on-drugs. I expected dumb. An incomprehensible mess punctuated with cheese-encrusted CGI effects, phony philosophizing and outbursts of tedium, I did not. The unintentional mirth I had hoped for amounted to no more than two or three contemptuous snorts at the aggregation of asininity — not to mention the cosmic incompetence — on the screen. Someone will undoubtedly tell me that this is one of those films that you enjoy by “checking your brain at the door.” Well, that’s clearly what writer-director Luc Besson did before creating this thing, but I see no point in lowering myself to his lobotomy.
Generally speaking, I have nothing — well, not much anyway — against Besson. After his early period as an overrated filmmaker — and the critical and commercial disaster of his 1999 The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (starring his then-wife Milla Jovovich as Joan) — he settled into the role of producer, frequent writer and occasional director of schlock action pictures (and the odd children’s film). These films were of little discernible merit but largely of no great harm. For some reason, he seems to be of a mind to re-establish himself as a filmmaker of note — and this curdled concoction of undigested Kubrick and barely assimilated Malick is his apparent attempt at this. The terrifying thing is that there’s a good chance that Lucy is going to be a hit. Whether this has anything to do with Besson’s filmmaking and storytelling or is solely based on the prospect of seeing Scarlett Johansson kicking ass as the pseudo-superheroine of the title is an unsettled point.
OK, let’s go ahead and admit that the basic premise of the movie — the whole we-only-use-10-percent-of-the-brain biz — is a load of clams. That idea has been long refuted, but I knew this going in and was still willing to go with all this hooey. It didn’t take long for the film itself to evaporate any good will I might have mustered. The erosion started when the movie thought it was being clever and cinematic by cutting away to childish bits of symbolism portraying hapless Lucy (Johansson) as a mouse being lured into a trap, or being a gazelle pursued by a cheetah, etc. In the film’s favor, it soon dropped this idiocy, but it never occurred to anyone to go back and cut it out, which cancels out any significant plus value.
I’m not about to catalogue all of the movie’s sins — a priest at a cinematic confessional would skip the Hail Mary and Our Father stuff and jump right into hair shirts and flagellation for Besson’s penance. Let’s just say that almost nothing makes any sense — and I’m not even talking about this designer drug (that looks like bright blue aquarium gravel) that preposterously gets into Lucy’s system and turns her into the Smartest Person Who Ever Lived — complete with all sorts of superpowers. No, I’m talking about the actions of every character in the picture — including the supposedly superintelligent Lucy. I don’t mind that this drug allows her to writhe up a wall and across the ceiling as if Fred Astaire was having a seizure in Royal Wedding. I do mind that Mr. Jang’s (Min-sik Choi, Oldboy) henchmen haven’t been told, “Hey, don’t kick her in the abdomen. We just sewed up a bunch of drugs in there.” I don’t care that Lucy can telekinesis up a storm of bleeding noses, floating firearms and hovering bad guys — not to mention turning on and off electrical devices without the aid of a Clapper. No, I’m good with that. I’m less good with why she doesn’t just go all Amy Irving on Mr. Jang and explode him like John Cassavetes in The Fury (1978), rather than wait for him and his endless stream of goons to shoot up Paris.
In the midst of all this, we have poor Morgan Freeman trying to make this nonsense sound “scientific” and plausible. (I haven’t encountered anything this pathetically unpersuasive since 2008 when I listened to Ben Stein ramble on in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.) Better yet, we have the movie’s supposedly mind-blowing sequence where our Lucy sits in an office chair and goes on some kind of amazing journey on the road to 100 percent brain capacity (onscreen titles keep us abreast of where she is percentage-wise). That scene manages to cobble together 2001 (1968), The Tree of Life (2011), Altered States (1980), the Sistine Chapel ceiling (reconfigured with Scarlet Johansson and the Australopithecus Lucy) — and more. The problem is that this all sounds more interesting — at least in a trainwreck way — than it actually is. Bad effects, stretches of tedium, a somnambulistic performance from genetically modified Johansson and the mistaken belief that all this is somehow profound squelches its screw-loose amusement value very fast. Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images and sexuality.