Lucy Directed by Luc Besson (R)

Lucy brings writer/director Luc Besson back from career death, after recent fare like The Family and Arthur and the Invisibles.

 

Lucy isn’t a strong movie, but it has guts for a summertime release, trying to give audiences a little more to chew on than your average slam-bang production.

 

It’s surreal, exploratory, and interpretational—a puzzle of the mind that Besson manages with immense concentration, even when it reaches for the stars in philosophical and scientific concepts.

 

Trying to create his own 2001, Besson overestimates his ability to tie it all together, but when it’s challenging viewers with its brain-melting ways, it’s quite the spectacle.

 

Photo courtesy of Canal+

Maybe Luc Besson recently changed his brand of coffee. That would explain Lucy’s cult appeal, once our heads stop spinning.

 

A party girl in Taiwan, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson, who owns a difficult role) is talked into a dangerous situation by her manipulative lover, put face-to-face with Chinese crime lord, Mr. Jang (Choi Min-Sik).

 

Transformed into a drug mule, with a bag of specialized dope inserted into her belly, Lucy faces a troubling return home, soon beaten by her captors.

 

The violence opens the drug bag inside her, changing her chemical makeup and gifting her the ability to access 20 percent of her brain power, with the number rising the longer she’s alive.

 

Realizing the power she possesses, Lucy reaches out to Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), a specialist on the limits of the human mind, which he believes can only reach 10 percent.

 

Lucy is reborn as a super-being, capable of God-like force, which she uses to disrupt Kang’s underground network, confer with Professor Norman and his colleagues, and prepare humankind for the next stage of evolution.

 

Maybe Besson recently changed coffee brands. There has to be some reason for Lucy’s loopy experiment in storytelling. The helmer announces his tilted intentions right off the bat, intercutting Lucy’s push into the drug mule game with footage of big cat predators attacking helpless prey, establishing a weird dramatic intent and spelling out the obvious for those not paying close attention to early events.

 

It’s perhaps the last moment in the film that Besson gives to the viewer. The rest circles in its own cinematic orbit, indifferent to the needs of anyone but the director, who takes the whole effort with utmost seriousness. Besson’s ambition is remarkable. Lucy isn’t always consistent, but it’s eager to explore its brain activity concept, sketching out the lead character as a dim woman thrust into a nightmare.

 

She’s threatened with violence by men who don’t speak English. She’s cut open against her will and left to absorb brutality from strangers before she’s allowed the opportunity to return home. The drug explosion transforms her into a robot of extreme intelligence, able to access events from birth and navigate the world’s information with lightning speed.

 

In a clever twist on the “ticking clock,” Lucy’s brain usage increases as the picture unfolds, each surge taking the once blissfully unaware woman to fresh mental potential, soon controlling minds, manipulating objects, and traveling through existence.

 

Besson uses periodic visits from another Lucy, the first Neanderthal woman, to illustrate the monumental miracle of time and how it defines us as humans.

 

Lucy isn’t rooted in fact, but it has a convincing curiosity. Besson introduces the 10 percent concept at one of Professor Norman’s lectures, which is laced throughout the opening act. Big ideas are launched to aid Lucy’s quest for divinity and, while it feels impossible to take the movie seriously, Besson’s enthusiasm is infectious.

 

Lucy brandishes a gun on a few occasions, but she eventually switches to her cranked-up mind to cause the most damage. A French cop (played by Amr Waked) ultimately gets involved with Lucy’s plan, and Mr. Jang is a formidable villain with plenty of armed minors carrying out his orders.

 

Yet Lucy isn’t an action picture in the traditional sense, which is sure to disappoint those expecting to see Johansson mow down Asian baddies with a voiceover by Freeman.

 

Lucy isn’t that movie. Besson’s attempt at revelation with a degree of cinematic sophistication is sure to decimate the feature’s box office potential, and the effort doesn’t always click smoothly, missing a few transitional moments along the way.

 

Still, the passion is refreshing. Besson is energized and alert for the first time in a long time, diligently crafting a version of Lucy that’s appealingly insane, with esoteric touches that all but guarantee it a future as a cult film—once our heads stop spinning.

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