Lucy is a mixture of a number of familiar elements from other movies. There’s a lot of Limitless (2011), The Matrix Reloaded, Transcendence (which I admittedly didn’t see, but its clear from those trailers that there are similarities) and just a dash of John Travolta’s Phenomenon (1996). The basic plot, of which I will not reveal any more than the trailers, is about a young woman who involuntarily becomes a drug mule and has a package of drugs sewn into her abdomen. The drug in question is CPH-4, which is a synthetic version of–oh, hell with it, it’s just like the drug in Limitless, okay? While in captivity, she’s kicked in the stomach by a henchman, causing the bag within to leak the drug into her body, embuing her with god-like powers. Which begs the question, why did the henchman, who I assume knew she had the bag in her stomach, kick her in the stomach repeatedly?
Besides the fact that Morgan Freeman seems to playing the same character here as he did in Transcendence as well as the theme of becoming enmeshed in technology, I noted that Lucy had much in common with The Matrix Reloaded and Limitless. The problem is, although Lucy’s central story is strikingly similar to Limitless, it doesn’t crib enough from that film’s fun, exciting, heady moments and unfortunately steals way too much from the turgidity of The Matrix Reloaded. Remember the scene when Neo meets the Architect, who proceeds to engage in the most boring incomprehensible exposition in the history of cinema? Lucy has a lot of scenes like that. Well, not nearly as bad, but it’s full of exposition that becomes tedious. At the beginning of the film, we see Morgan Freeman’s Prof. Norman lecturing at a symposium about the nature of man, Darwinism and the capacity of the human brain. This is intercut with scenes of Lucy being coerced into delivering a package to a drug kingpin by her boyfriend. Both elements go on way too long. Johanssen’s opening scene with the boyfriend goes on forever until the viewer is like, “Please, either do what he’s asking or just walk away!” And Freeman’s lecture becomes an interminable diatribe. It becomes clear that the film wants to be a grandiose thesis on how humankind is failing to live up to its potential, and Freeman’s monologue sets the stage for what turns out to be an inert lesson in humanity’s shortcomings in reaching evolutionary perfection.
When Freeman’s not lecturing about this topic, we’re forced to hear it repeated over and over again in dialogue or voiceover as the movie goes along. Every time I thought I was clear on what the film was trying to tell me, the script never hesitated to beat it over my head yet again. The film does attempt to break up the monotony of Freeman’s exposition with allegorical footage of wild animals and Mother Nature at her worst. As the boyfriend, who’s obviously a scumbag, corrals Lucy into delivering the briefcase, the movie cuts whimsically to footage of a cougar hunting a gazelle (or some mammal of prey). I thought this was indicative of a filmmaker who had a unique, quirky vision; it reminded me of when I first saw Tom Twyker’s Run Lola Run. But Twyker knew when to stop. This technique goes past its expiration date when Freeman gets to lecturing about climate change and we see footage that we’ve seen many times before on the Weather Channel.
There are some great action sequences in the film; there’s an energetic car chase (Hollywood must have mandated that any and all car chases must involve the protagonist driving the opposite way into one-way traffic) and a stunning scene in a hallway where Lucy is outnumbered by bad guys with guns. As Lucy’s powers grow more and more implausible, the metaphysical dialogue becomes more burdensome and we begin to care less about the main character. I know my suspension of disbelief was pushed to the limit. Had I been allowed to get to know Lucy a little better, I may have been more invested as she grew more powerful. I may have been willing to stick with Lucy longer than I did. But we get virtually no background on the character. The story is off and running before we get to know her as a person, so it’s difficult to empathize with her as she becomes less of a person. For me, the more compelling story was that of the drug mules who are rounded up and forced to courier the drugs. I was curious to learn more about them than anything else that was happening onscreen. Their terror is palpably convincing, partly because of how brilliant Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) is at playing the sociopathic drug lord Jang (yes, a significant portion of the film takes place in Taipei, since Hollywood knows where the money is to be made). It’s immediately clear once we meet Jang that Lucy and the other mules are in serious trouble. I also found Amr Waked compelling as Inspector Del Rio, a guy just doing his job and trying to make sense of what’s happening around him.
The conclusion is nearly incomprehensible. I won’t give anything away, but it involves a lot of CGI, animation and mind-effing. As unbelievable as Lucy’s powers become, the denouement tops that with a “WTF, that’s IT” resolution, that is to say, the movie doesn’t really bother to answer or even speculate on the questions it raises. I don’t mind ambiguous endings; Lost In Translation, also starring ScarJo, is an example of ambiguity done right. I was so vested in those main characters, I didn’t mind filling in the blanks as pertains to her whisper into Bill Murray’s ear. After all the lofty platitudes and preaching Lucy throws at us, it thinks it can provide answers with effects razzle-dazzle when it fails to provide a fully fleshed out main character with which I can identify. That’s the biggest mind-eff of all. 2/5 reels
P.S. I’ll say this much for Lucy: having seen the trailers and thinking that the titular character was just a derivative of Scarlet Johannsen’s Black Widow, I was purged of that notion about a third of the way into the film. There’s no resemblance between Lucy and Natasha Romanoff. Funny thing is, I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. Maybe a little more fighting with fists and high heels instead of with her mind would’ve given at least one more cool action scene.