There’s an inherent flaw with fictional depictions of supreme intelligence; namely that the made-up mastermind is only ever able to utter anything as smart as their, in all likelihood, less-than hyper-intelligent creator can come up with.
It’s a problem that was pasted up on the big screen a couple of years back in Neil Burger’s ‘Limitless’, which saw Bradley Cooper’s narcotic-assisted jump into the genius leagues manifest itself mainly via his getting himself a decent haircut.
With its plot of a designer drug leaking into the bloodstream of an unwilling mule and giving her access to all those bits of the brain we pesky humans never get around to using, ‘Lucy’ suffers to an extent from the same affliction. It’s a problem particularly acute in the latter scenes where Scarlett Johansson’s title character is supposed to be blowing the minds of Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) and his white coated co-workers, but in actual fact sounds like she’s reciting from a compendium of cosmic self-help cow-shit.
To rewind slightly, ‘Lucy’ is the latest offering from EuropaCorp, the Paris-based film studio founded by ‘Nikita’ and ‘Fifth Element’ director Luc Besson. As you’re quite possibly already aware, EuropaCorp’s primary product is high concept action-thrillers often set Internationally but headlined by a name with decent US box office clout; for example, ‘3 Days to Kill’, ‘From Paris with Love’, the ‘Taken’ and ‘Transporter’ series.
It’s an approach so emblematic of the studio’s output (and, by extension, of Besson himself, a credited writer and producer on the majority of EuropaCorp movies) that, prior to its release, ‘Lucy’ looked very much like more of the same. To wit, Scarlett is press ganged into carrying drugs. Drugs leak. Scarlett develops kick-ass superpowers. Scarlett kicks asses of creeps who gave her the drugs. Audience forgets entire movie by time they reach multiplex car park.
But while there is a bit of that in ‘Lucy’ (okay, quite a lot), there’s a whole hunk of other stuff you weren’t expecting. Strange, bewildering stuff, as Besson sees fit to unleash his quasi-‘2001’ cogitations on the next stage of human evolution – most jarringly in the form of prehistoric sequences which feel cribbed from “Merry”Terry Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’ (a film distributed in France by EuropaCorp and which Besson was one of the representatives for at its Palme d’Or-winning press conference at Cannes 2011, in the stead of Pynchonesque publicity-phobe Malick).
There’s also a hefty debt owed to Katsuhiro Otomo’s all-conquering manga/anime classic ‘Akira’ – particularly that saga’s tragic villain Tetsuo – as Lucy’s high velocity hurtle towards ultimate power pushes her ever closer to destruction, at least as we mere mortals understand such things.
The fact that Besson elected to direct ‘Lucy’ himself testifies to his genuine interest in cognitive matters; he was inspired to write the first draft of the script a decade ago following a dinner party conversation with a neuroscientist, and he’s also a founding member of the Brain & Spine Institute in Paris (as, in a grim irony, is Michael Schumacher). However, the big problem with this apparent desire for his movie to say something even semi-meaningful or thought-provoking is that the French mogul has spent the last 15 years pedalling celluloid poop crimped out from between his own butt cheeks.
This means ‘Lucy’ is served up with a massive side order of stupidity; from the camp caricature played by Julian Rhind-Tutt, a most improbable associate of the movie’s main villain, Mr Jang (played by Old Boy star Min-sik Choi), to the irritating metaphorical cutaways of predatory wildlife during the opening scene where Taipei-based student Lucy is tricked into Jang’s clutches by her sleazy squeeze Richard (Pilou Asbæk).
Besson’s dependence on dumb to deliver continued box office success even extends to the premise of his film, that humans only use 10% of their brains. In actuality most folks use most or all of their brain over the course of an average day. Of course Besson is aware of this, but for a guy so self-professedly fascinated by intelligence to wallow in such guff feels rather pointless – much like ‘Lucy’ itself in fact.
Lucy is released in the UK on 22 August