The are four key ingredients to a Luc Besson blockbuster:
1. An emotionally vulnerable but physically intimidating female lead 2. Opera 3. A gratuitous gun fight 4. French people
All of these are contained within Lucy, the French writer, director and filmmaker's latest film which has already made an impressive splash at the worldwide box-office (it's made over $86 million in 10 days). The plot sees Scarlett Johansson play the title character Lucy, which is also a not-so-subtle wink to the name of the first women ever discovered by scientists. She's a twenty-something bimbo who's dating a guy that looks like he's an extra from a Blade movie. Due to a combination of bad luck and stupidity, she gets roped into an international drug ring where a bag of cutting-edge chemicals are surgically inserted into her person. During the transportation of the mule - Lucy - some thugs decide to get a little handsy with her because, hello, they're movie thugs. In the process of getting a sharp kick to the ribs the bag tears and releases the chemicals into her blood stream.
Yet instead of frothing at the mouth or bleeding from her eye balls, Lucy becomes a super-human. Much like the sharks in Deep Blue Sea, the chemical enhancement makes her super smart and super bad-ass. Yet unlike the sharks in Deep Blue Sea (who were terrifying enough, thank you very much) she develops the ability to manipulate other human beings, the environment around her and - eventually - time. Naturally girlfriend has a vendetta against the evil drug lords who abused her and goes on a mission to bring them down. Thrown into the mix is the silky smooth tunes of Morgan Freeman, who delivers a PowerPoint presentation throughout the duration of the film. Literally. Freeman's brain professor is spliced in between the action delivering a PowerPoint presentation on the human brain's capabilities. It's through this lecture - and it is a lecture, as the Oscar-winner spends a large portion of his role standing behind a lectern - that we learn humans only use 10 per cent of the brain. Lucy, meanwhile, is skyrocketing towards 100 per cent usage thanks to the drug CPH4 and the audience is informed of her dramatically increasing progress through handy '30 per cent' or '55 per cent' labels flashed on screen.
Lucy is a frustrating film, largely because you want it to be so much better than it is. The trailers advertised a fully-realised and grown up version of Natalie Portman's character in Leon: The Professional. And heck, how could you not be excited as a fan of Scarlett Johansson to see her career evolving from underappreciated arthouse actress to unlikely bonafide action babe? The movie made back its $40million budget in its opening weekend in the US with a $42million debut, beating out the penis with legs himself Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's Hercules. A female-led action flick by a proven auteur in Besson, knocking out a testosterone packed wank fest? It's a fairytale I want read to me every night before I got to bed. Unfortunately Lucy is a bit... well, shit.
Lucy as a character is two dimensional. Johansson has two notes to hit the entire movie as she transitions from bimbo to fembot. As a 25-year-old smart-talking, hard-partying student in the latest attire from Herve Leger she's not very interesting. As a fembot there's potential, particularly in two scenes where she uses her newfound intelligence and awareness to her advantage (in the first instance to escape her captors and in the second for a Prometheus-worthy surgery scene). The early action scenes are the best part of the film and hint at the Salt-esque thrill ride it could have been. Unfortunately every time the pace rockets up and the story becomes thrilling, we're yanked out of it to watch Freeman using a swipe transition. Then there’s the weird wildlife clips that are spliced through the flick’s duration, jolting you out of the story and the point - whatever it is - is lost. It feels more like a bizarre ad for the latest smart phone or tablet than a movie in parts. As for the ending... Yes, this is a science fiction movie and, yes, it's as high concept as it gets BUT there's really no logical pay-off for where the movie ends up somewhere between The Matrix and The Cell.
Lucy is supposed to be Besson's Tree Of Life. It's supposed to be his big statement on creation, the universe, women and human kind as a whole. The problem is the vessel - Lucy - is no Joan Of Arc. She's no Nikita. She's no Mathilda. She's no Leeloo. She's no Adèle Blanc-Sec. The character isn't a third as interesting as any of Besson's previous heroines and it's a shame that this is the film of his that will probably have the most reach.
Lucy is essentially an Apple ad narrated by Morgan Freeman and starring Scarlett Johansson. It's full of wildlife montages and galaxy cut aways, with the end result leaving you with a strange desire to buy a MacBook... or something.
[rating=2] Maria Lewis - follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.