Thank the powers that be for television. This has been such an atrociously abysmal summer for films that had the programming on the small screen not been so exceptionally good, I would have spent the last few months writing reviews of films I didn’t want to watch. I was just about ready to give up on the silver screen when “Jersey Boys” arrived in theaters and offered me a glimmer of hope that Tinseltown was not dead.
And when I saw the trailers for “Lucy,” a sci-fi thriller starring Academy Award-winner Morgan Freeman and the talented and beautiful Scarlett Johannson, I thought perhaps we were moving back in the right direction and may actually see some good films before summer fades into fall. Thus my hopes and expectations were high as I settled in to watch “Lucy,” but, alas, they soon were dashed by a film that just really never developed. (Pun intended.)
Lucy (Johansson) is an American who lives in Taipei, Taiwan, whose boyfriend is involved in drugs and who coerces her into making a delivery to his boss, Mr. Jang (Choi Min-Sik). Now Jang is a ruthless Korean drug kingpin, to whom Lucy delivers a briefcase handcuffed to her in his hotel room. The case contains CPH4, an incredibly expensive synthetic drug capable of increasing the brain function and capacity of anyone who uses it.
The drug is packaged to be sewn into the abdomens of Lucy and other “drug mules” so they can smuggle the stuff into Europe, where the dealers hope to make a huge profit from it. But things take an unexpected turn when one of the thugs involved in the process decides to treat Lucy to a beating during which he kicks her in the stomach.
Unfortunately for the bad guys, the foot to the abdomen ruptures the drug package inside Lucy, and some of the stuff seeps into her system with terrifying results. As more and more CPH4 courses through her veins, Lucy turns into human anomaly with superhuman powers. Her mind becomes a virtual sponge capable of instantly soaking up vast amounts of knowledge, and her strength increases to the point where she would give Superman one hell of a battle. She also develops telekinetic powers, the ability to travel through time mentally, and immunity to any pain.
Lucy knows she must find some way of harnessing her increasing powers, and to this end she contacts Professor Norman (Freeman), a noted scholar and scientist who may be the only one capable of helping her. Additionally, Lucy is determined to find Jang and make him pay for what he has done to her.
Although “Lucy” seemed to have significant potential, it never really lived up to it. This was a difficult film for me to evaluate because I wanted to like it, but when it was over, all I could think of was that it was a waste of both my time and two very fine performers in Freeman and Johansson. This is not to say they were bad in their respective roles. They weren’t. In fact, Johansson excelled in an extremely physically demanding part, but Freeman never really had a chance to demonstrate his prowess as an actor. Of course this really wasn’t his fault because he simply played the part as it was written, and perhaps some of the problem was with the script.
In spite of offering some decent action sequences and several outstanding special effects, the movie often seemed a bit disjointed and confusing in spots. One thing that really irritated me was hearing the bad guys rattle off dialogue in a foreign gibberish and having no idea what they were saying because there were no English subtitles.
Perhaps the major thing that bothered me about this film was its lack of depth, and that begins with the character of Lucy. I wanted to know more about her background and how she came to be in the situation we find her. But hardly before we even get to know the human Lucy, she morphs into a robot with superpowers that goes through the motions of wasting villains with all the enthusiasm of a somnambulist. In an online interview with Jesse David Fox, Johansson offered the following insight into her character.
“There’s so much going on inside of her. She’s having all these profound changes and realizations and these sudden ‘ah-ha’ moments. But you still want to watch the person and see that there’s an inner life happening there. The goal is to not make it a story about revenge and not have the performance be monotonous or robotic. It very well might be. I’m not sure that I succeeded in making it anything else. I was aware every moment of what her abilities were. I had a big chart. Okay, I’m at 40 percent. This is what I’m holding on to. This is what I know now. This is what I’m capable of. Okay, now I’m at 70 percent, so this is what I’m challenged by. She’s gaining all this ability and knowledge but she’s becoming almost childlike in some ways. That’s how I saw it.”
And in the film’s production notes, the actress explained what attracted her to the film and to the part.
“She’s figuring out who she is, and she’s feeling like she should probably get her life on track. The film poses some complex existential questions. It would have been hard to imagine how the script has evolved because so much of that is Luc’s (director Luc Besson) vision. Anything I could imagine the film to look like, just from reading the descriptions in the script, pales in comparison to the actual life that Luc breathed into this project.
“This is actually what drew me to this project. I had to trust Luc’s vision. I remember meeting him and he said, ‘You have to trust that I know what this is about because it can be vague at times. But if you see what I’m seeing, you’ll believe in it.’ So, I took a leap of faith. He’s a formidable guy who knows what he sees in his mind and wants that vision to be executed perfectly.”
“Lucy” definitely has an interesting premise behind it, but it simply doesn’t do enough with it. I’m not a fan of extra long movies, but with its running time of barely 90 perhaps, this one could have profited from a bit more time to enhance the overall story. As it stands, “Lucy,” which earns the final score of a very disappointing five, could just as well have been a film made for Lifetime. Just another bomb in a summer rife with them!