I was desperately looking for any sign that Luc Besson recognized what a ridiculous movie he was making. It never came.
A couple of weeks ago the family and I headed off to the local megaplex to watch the RiffTrax guys do their thing with Sharknado. It was a blast. The funny thing is, though, Sharknado is one of those bad movies that’s fun even without the RiffTrax commentary thanks to its combination of horrible acting, shoddy effects, and absolutely ludicrous science. I mean, who knew you could destroy a tornado by flying a helicopter up to its edge and lobbing a homemade bomb into it? The truth is, even though the actors play it straight for the camera, Sharknado is obviously a farce, and while watching it you never once feel like the filmmakers weren’t in on the joke.
About half way into writer/director Luc Besson’s new film, Lucy, I was desperately looking for any sign that he or Scarlett Johansson or Morgan Freeman or anybody else for that matter recognized what a ridiculous movie it was they were making. It never came.
How can I explain the experience of watching Lucy? Have you ever been in a conversation with a thirteen year old who knows how everything in life works because they’ve read half a J.D. Salinger book, and they’re explaining in all seriousness to you the absolute truth about sociology, philosophy, religion, and science in that arrogant faux world-weary tone only an adolescent can manage? And remember how you sat there staring blankly at them as they prattled on because most of what they were saying was demonstrably false and the rest wouldn’t make any sense even if you were whacked out of your mind on peyote? Now imagine if you gave that kid tens of millions of dollars and told them to go make a movie. Chances are, the end result would look a lot like Lucy.
The film begins with the titular character, an American student (thirty year old Scarlett Johansson) studying abroad in Tapei, inadvertently running afoul of local drug kingpin, Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi, the original Oldboy!). Forced into being a drug mule for Jang, things go from bad to worse for Lucy when the pack full of experimental narcotics surgically implanted in her stomach ruptures and empties the (literally) mind-altering chemicals into her body. Sure, it’s not the nicest superhero origin story, but I guess there’s only so many radioactive spiders crawling around.
While all of this is going on, the film intercuts the action with scenes of Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) giving a TED talk style lecture on the potential of the human brain. Norman believes that living cells, and therefore anything made of living cells, are driven by the desire to be immortal, so they always do one of two things; flee from danger when an environment is bad, or procreate when an environment is favorable. Humans are slaves to these instincts, he claims, because they only use 10% of their brain capacity. Now, either Freeman didn’t study his lines for these scenes or he just couldn’t believe some of the things he was saying, because he visibly keeps halting and then looking down at his script to see what to say next. It’s kind of funny.
The professor then goes on to ask the audience to imagine the possibilities if someone could find a way to use 20% or more of their brain capacity. Just think of the amazing powers such a being would develop; telepathy, mind control, telekinesis, and more. The movie then immediately flashes back to Lucy, and just in case anyone missed the obvious, flashes a big 20% on the screen to let us know that Lucy has indeed hit that benchmark. It’s kind of funny.
At this point, we should probably go ahead and address the elephant in the room. Yes, Besson obviously missed the episode of