The Critic: Scarlett Johansson in Lucy

lucy-scarlett-johansson-posterBy Spencer. Most movies only use ten percent of their brain. Lucy is one of them.

It’s a dumb person’s idea of what a smart movie should be. I’m setting aside the fact that its most basic premise — we only use 10% of our brain — is a complete myth, because if I started worrying about stuff like that, I’d never be able to go to movies anymore. No, the stupidity of Lucy isn’t just in the science (though there’s plenty of that too) but in the nonsensical plot, the amateurish editing, and the way it interjects shallow armchair philosophy at every turn, like a college freshman on pot trying to impress everyone with how much he learned in his “Intro to Nietzsche” course. That such a moronically executed script happens to be a story about higher intelligence is the final irony, and if director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Professional) were trying to make this film as some kind of a piece of satire on that point, it might have at least been worth the trouble. Sadly, he’s dead serious. 

The only way to review a movie like this is to mock it relentlessly. So if you want to avoid spoilers, click elsewhere. Lucy starts with a CGI Australopithecus that I can only assume was the evolutionary forefather of those prairie dogs from the beginning of Indy 4. Scarlett Johansson, in a voiceover, says “Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?” This is meant as a criticism, though it’s followed by a montage of human culture and technological progress that kind of defeats her own point. We then cut to a hotel in Taiwan where Lucy is having a rather deep conversation with a guy in a cowboy hat. They’ve been dating a week, and he has a locked metal briefcase of the kind that is never used for good. Real casual like, he asks if she wouldn’t mind taking it into the lobby and delivering it to a Mr. Jang. She asks what’s in it, and he says it’s just paperwork — paperwork that he’s paid $1000 a pop to deliver. Except that for some unstated reason, he thinks it would be better if she makes the delivery in his place this time. (Because, you know, drug dealers always love it when a complete stranger shows up with their merchandise, amirite???). Oh, and somewhere in this exchange, he tries to prove how smart he is by casually mentioning that he went to a museum earlier and saw a model of the first woman, whose name was — wait for it — Lucy. Yes, that’s a thing that happens.

Anyway, he handcuffs the briefcase to Lucy’s wrist, forcing her to deliver it against her will. Needless to say, Lucy is in imminent danger; you know this because, as she waits in the lobby for the drug dealers, Besson intercuts footage of a cheetah hunting a helpless antelope. (For all you film students out there, this is called “symbolism”). The boyfriend gets shot right away, because of course he does, and Lucy is whisked up to a hotel room where she’s confronted by the evil Mr. Jang (played by Oldboy‘s Min-Sik Choi, who should be ashamed of himself). You know Jang is evil, because he’s covered in blood when she arrives, and you know he’s rich, because he has a minion wash it off with Evian in the middle of the suite. (Apparently, his room, as lavish as it is, doesn’t have a sink). Now Mr. Jang doesn’t speak English, because we needed a reason to drag this movie out to a robust 89 minutes, so he has someone translate for Lucy via speakerphone. She says she doesn’t know anything, which always works in these kinds of situations. He forces her to open the case by gunpoint, while his lackeys all hide behind bomb shields (because apparently they have no idea what’s in this metal case that’s arriving at precisely the time they were expecting the delivery of a metal case containing a shit ton of drugs). She opens the case. It’s a shit ton of drugs. Specifically, a new designer drug called CPH4 that’s a synthetic version of a compound that pregnant women release in minute quantities into the womb to help their babies grow skeletons. (Don’t worry, that’s not true, and CPH4 isn’t a real thing either, as anyone who ever took high school chemistry and knows that carbon can only bond to four other atoms, not five, has probably guessed by now).

Anyway, I’ve spent two long paragraphs describing the stupidity of the first five minutes of this movie, so I’m beginning to see the error of this exercise. Moving along, the bad guys sew a packet of this crap into Lucy’s belly, along with three other conscripts, and put them all on flights around the world to deliver the drugs. Now, you might ask, why would criminal masterminds with a drug that gives you superhuman powers want to sell this stuff to kids on the street when they could just take it themselves and, like, conquer the world? STOP ASKING STUPID QUESTIONS. Because somewhere along the line, a thug who apparently missed the point of all this kicks Lucy in the belly, spilling the drug into her bloodstream, and she comes out the other side of the experience like a mix of Neo and Mr. Data, but with breasts. She kills everyone and comes after Mr. Jang, sticking two knives in his hands and giving him a rambling monologue about space and time (which seems like a dumb move for such a smart person since, as we’ve established, he doesn’t speak English). She then goes after the three remaining drug mules, because the movie needed to give her something to do.

Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman is giving a lecture on how humans only use 10% of their brains to a group of students and academics who, from the sound of their questions, are using far less than that. But you know that what he’s saying is smart, because they’re all nodding thoughtfully with their fingers on their chins. Freeman is the world’s foremost authority on brain capacity, so Lucy contacts him via his television (because she can do that) and asks him what she’s supposed to do with all of this excess brain power (which apparently is still limited enough that she needs to ask a 10-percenter like Freeman for advice). Freeman’s the kind of guy you cast in a role like this because, well, he sounds smart and authoritative. Apparently no one with a British accent and glasses was available.

(By the way, for those counting, I’ve used the word “smart” five times and counting by now. Like Besson, I feel the need to point out why I’m doing this. Because I’d hate for you to miss the point. The point is, this movie really wants to be smart. Got it? K.)

Lucy grabs a flight to Paris and starts dissolving for some reason, so she rushes to the bathroom to smear drugs all over her face — which is really upsetting to all of the flight crew witnessing this spectacle because she’s not supposed to be out of her seat this close to landing, see? She then meets up with Freeman, whose idea of science during all of this is to gawk at all the cool shit she can do while he forgets to take notes. Freeman and his scientist buddies inject her with all of the drugs so her brain can reach 100%, because, cool. She starts growing black tentacles like Venom that turn into some kind of supercomputer. Then she disappears right as the bad guy tries to shoot her in the head, and starts teleporting all around space and time as she becomes some kind of god (because Besson watched 2001 recently and thought that was pretty fucking cool). Finally, the weird supercomputer thing hands Freeman a flash drive with stars all over it that contains Lucy’s collective knowledge (and which is, we can only hope, Apple compatible).

If you’ve stuck around this long and are waiting for the ass-kicking to start, you’ll be disappointed to learn that you already saw it all in the trailer. Which, um, doesn’t seem smart. But that’s just the problem. Lucy is so busy taking itself seriously, so busy articulating some grand unifying theory about the nature of time, the universe, and the purpose of human existence, that the fun never happens. The smartest thing about this movie is that it puts Scarlett Johansson in a white t-shirt with a black bra underneath. (Sorry if that’s sexist. I hope that hits home my point about the kind of smarts on display here).

Look, it’s late July. We all know that this is where the studios dump the stuff that wasn’t big enough to come out in May and wasn’t smart enough to be a factor in the fall Oscar season. No one, including me, went into Lucy hoping for art. All we’re asking for is some big, dumb fun. So I could forgive the stupidity of this movie if I had been in the least bit entertained. Instead, we get ScarJo, an underrated actress, spouting off laughably deep thoughts like she’s Jack Handey.

The movie closes with another voiceover from her: “Life was given to us a billion years ago. Now you know what to do with it.” Yes, we do. We know to take drugs until you think you’re a god. And, if possible, avoid Luc Besson movies.

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