I’m going to begin with what may come across as an odd question: How do you like your action flicks?
You might reasonably tell yourself that as long as the film contains plenty of intense sequences with guns blazing and bullets flying, then you are getting your money’s worth. A more discerning viewer, however, might be looking for something with a little more substance. One might like a film with hefty character drama or a political thriller with an incisive message about global affairs. French director Luc Besson’s latest film “Lucy” has a slight sci-fi tinge, and while it purports to be smarter than your average flick, it cannot rise above its ludicrous premise.
Besson’s name might not be immediately recognizable to most people, but many know about films he has helped create. Writing and producing films like those in the “Transporter” and “Taken” series, Besson has a reputation for being one of the foremost action directors. He is also known for creating some of the best female action heroes to hit the big screen, most notably in “Nikita,” “Léon: The Professional,” and “The Fifth Element.” Scarlett Johansson, who plays the film’s titular character, makes her mark and commands the screen during the film’s stylish action sequences with her mostly stoic expressions and delivery. Her presence suitably overshadows her co-stars, including the ever-amiable Morgan Freeman, branding a particular toughness nearly charming enough to get the film by. In the grand scheme of things, however, her role as a character feels minor.
First of all, let me clarify that there is nothing wrong with action flicks with little to no depth. As long as they shamelessly recognize the sole purpose of their entertainment value, films with explosive fight scenes and nothing else can be enjoyed for reveling in their own lack of subtlety. From the outside looking in, “Lucy” would appear to be one of those films. In the film, a woman (Johansson) is forced by her captors to transport a new synthetic drug within her body, but when the package leaks, the drug reacts with her body in such a way that she gains the ability to use 100 percent of her brain — because this film perpetuates the myth that humans only use 10 percent of their cerebral capacity. With her newfound abilities, she escapes her captors, who must pursue her to retrieve the package.
It’s a shame the film could not stick to this simple, if ridiculous premise to make for an entertaining diversion. Instead, the film tries to be smarter than it should, using its premise to introduce a meaningless dialogue on human nature. The message Besson tries to convey has little purpose or direction, sometimes distracting from the action that gives the film its overall appeal and even enhancing the film’s silliness. This film revels in its gleeful outrageousness, but not in the way it should. Because Besson aimlessly attempts to inject substance into the story, the role of the message often transcends that of the characters, which is why Lucy feels somewhat smaller than the role the film’s title implies. She is merely a conduit through which the film tries to convey true intelligence. At the very least, the film is a fast-paced affair kept at a mercifully short length of 89 minutes — although, to be fair, the film could have been even shorter than that and effectively gotten the job done.
In spite of its own merits, “Lucy” is an exceedingly mindless action film that pretends to be something it is not. It is entertaining enough until it devolves into an unbelievable mess near the end of the final act. In a way, its attempts to appear as an action film smarter than most is strangely admirable, but its message needed more purpose and direction. For a film that operates on the logic that a human uses only ten percent of his brain, it seems appropriate that this film does not require you to use any of yours.
Rating: 2 stars out of 4