Director Luc Besson likes to make movies about women who kick butt – Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita (1990), Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element (1997) and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999). His latest femme fatale is Scarlett Johansson in the very Lucy new movie Lucy (sorry).
Lucy is a slacker partygirl in Taiwan kidnapped by Asian gangster Mr. Jang. Jang is smuggling a mysterious new drug by surgically implanting bags of the stuff in the intestines of Lucy and a few other hapless suckers. Things go south when a disgruntled rapey guard kicks her in the stomach, releasing the mystery drug into her bloodstream.
According to hippie legend, and reiterated in this movie by Morgan Freeman as Professor Norman, humans only use 10% of their brain capacity. When Lucy gets a dose of the new drug, her ability to access her brain increases. Like a college freshman after their first LSD experiment, she discovers the interconnectedness of everything, and has newfound abilities to see music and taste color and kick ass. It’s hard to say how seriously Luc Besson takes this leftover 60’s human potential stuff, but it makes a decent jumping-off point for a fun action movie. Watching ScarJo take on Inscrutable but Immaculately Attired Asian Bad Guys is worth the price of a ticket alone, but we also get some neat Taipei and Paris locations as well.
Angelina Jolie was originally set to star in Lucy, but dropped out to make Maleficent (2014). I can’t help feeling that audiences dodged a bullet. Would Jolie have been able to resist the urge to smirk while she takes out a roomful of bad guys? I doubt it. Johansson, on the other hand, has had a chance to practice her Woman Who Fell to Earth routine in such movies as Under the Skin (2013) and The Island (2005), and handles these scenes perfectly – acting as if offing the bad guys is a momentary distraction from her string theory calculations.
Besson has upped his game as well, wedding 60’s pop philosophy to Asian inspired 21st century film technique. The movie’s sudden cuts to metaphorical imagery and CGI animation makes the viewing experience like clicking links on a website. Casting Min-sik Choi from the original Oldboy (2003) as Mr. Jang is a clear nod to the kidnap/revenge plot of that film. This summer saw Korean director Bong Joon-ho release Snowpiercer (2013), his first “European” film, and now Luc Besson has released Lucy, his first “Korean” film. I think this exchange program I just made up is going swimmingly.
Overall Score: 90
Letter Grade: A-