This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 24th August 2014
French director Luc Besson does a good line in kick-ass, female, action heroines. In the wake of the titular trained assassin in his genre-busting La Femme Nikita, he introduced the world to a tiny Natalie Portman who busted her way into the limelight in 1994’s Leon: The Professional. Milla Jovovich hit the big-time soon after in The Fifth Element.
So who better to present Scarlett Johansson as Lucy, a girl in the wrong place at the wrong time whose unsolicited ingestion of a super-drug suddenly gives her brain the capacity to turn the tables (and chairs, weapons and everything else in the room) on her criminal captors.
In a terrific set-up that eschews English sub-titles so that we’re as in the dark as our protagonist, we meet Lucy outside a Taiwanese skyscraper where her new boyfriend is trying to persuade her to deliver a briefcase for him. Despite every fibre in Lucy’s (and our) being screaming “No!”, events unfold rapidly and bloodily as the bleached blonde goes from daft to dangerous to deadly in a matter of hours. Enlisting the help of neuro-researcher Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman playing his usual friendly self), Lucy must race to save her own life as her brainpower grows exponentially.
For someone whose scientific understanding sits happily and ignorantly at School Certificate, Lucy is enormous fun – flashy, bold and plucky, like its heroine, and all the better for its use of European locations beset by fierce Taiwanese villains. For those with an aversion to “bad science” however, the obligatory suspension of disbelief may be a bigger ask, but Besson (who also wrote the script) has hooked into that old “we only use 10% of our brain” fable and insists on turning it all the way up to 100%.
Initially, as her brain hits 20%, 30% and 40%, Lucy’s superhuman prowess is the stuff of wish fulfilment. But as it gets into quite literally unimaginable territory (even the Professor admits his research is limited to hypotheses we can actually contemplate), things get a little more crazy and the denouement is ultimately not as satisfying as the tale’s earlier development.
However, this is resolutely a European thriller, and with an international cast that includes Oldboy’s Min-sik Choi (who is actually Korean) and Egyptian Amr Waked as a sympathetic Parisian cop, every scene feels like a fresh take on the Hollywood actioners we’ve become enured to.