Thursday, July 24, 2014

LUCY Is On Drugs

Scarlett Johansson goes all Miss Matrix on you as Lucy.  Is it a great movie?  No.  Does it have entertaining action?  Yes.  Is she good?  Yes.  She made smart acting choices in an action movie with a far-fetched script and some cinema images that dropkick you back to the 1940s.  Scarlett Johansson starts out as a victim, a young and clueless woman with a "Hello Kitty" T-shirt personality.  Somehow she wound up in Taiwan dating a low-life rat who tricks her into helping him with a drug deal.
The next thing you know, innocent and scared Lucy is tortured by a bunch of Asian thugs and their drug lord.  She's rendered unconscious and turned into a drug mule.  A plastic bag filled with a weird drug that looks like blue pop rocks was surgically implanted in her belly.  While she's having all this drama, a renowned professor (played by Morgan Freeman) lectures on how the average human uses only 10% of his or her brain.
Of course, something goes horribly wrong while Lucy's in Asian captivity.  The Asian men want to have beastly sex with this pretty American blonde.  They abuse her.  The big bag of drugs breaks, the drugs go into her system and she gains superhuman intellect and powers.  She has lost the feeling of pain and fear.  She feels everything around her.  She has gained extraordinary abilities.  And she's got a gun.  She goes from being victim to being the top aggressor with a super computer-like brain.  Does she want vengeance or does she want answers?  Or both?  Francis Bacon said, "Knowledge is power."  Lucy says, "Ignorance causes chaos."  She has power.  She will use 100% of her brain.  The screenwriter used the usual 10%.  Or a bit less.

I'm interested in seeing if this action movie pulls in female moviegoers and has a satisfying box office debut.  It's 2014 and a female as the lead action character is rare in Hollywood movies.  Johansson was in Marvel's The Avengers but she wasn't the star of it.  Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man was.  I hoped Veronica Mars, the movie version out earlier this year, would inspire Hollywood to give us a new adult female private eye lead character.  That's a genre crying out for attention.  We haven't had a female private eye drive a movie since Kathleen Turner starred as V.I. Warshawski in 1991.  The men are still the majority of comic book action figures in films.  And when the heck is Hollywood gonna gives us a big screen version of Wonder Woman?  We got Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern.  Ben Affleck was Daredevil, then he donned the Superman outfit when he played TV Superman George Reeves in Hollywoodland and he will be the new Batman.  That's three for him.  But there hasn't been one actress starring in a big Wonder Woman feature yet.  That's just wrong.

Luc Besson directed and wrote Lucy.  He directed La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element.  He likes shapely young women, macho foreign men with that butch leather-clad Euro-look, car chases and slapping scenes in which we're focused on the hand before the person gets slapped.  That's all here in Lucy.  The car chase scene in Lucy totally worked for me.

Lucy contacts policeman Pierre Del Rio to help her nab the drug kingpin and bust the drug mules before they arrive at their destination.  Her superhuman skills intimidate the cops at first but, eventually, they work with her.  She works the closest with the macho Del Rio.  He may not get to go horizontal with her but she sets him up to get a major raise and a promotion at work.  Del Rio is well-played by Amr Waked.  I'd like to see Amr Waked and Scarlett Johansson team up again in something just as action-filled and driven by the female lead but with a sharper movie script -- like 1996's under-appreciated The Long Kiss Goodnight starring Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson.  She played a suburban mom stricken with amnesia whom we follow as we see her become a top secret agent with a gun.  Like in The Long Kiss Goodnight, an ordinary woman gains strength and extraordinary skills.  Lucy can handle men with guns.  She's their match.

Luc Besson movies are usually like fast food.  They're Big Macs and a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.  But when you say that in French like John Travolta's character does in Pulp Fiction, they sound fancier.  What I wrote about him using the usual 10% of brain power when he wrote the screenplay?  I'll put it like this:  If I'd acquired the powers to lift people into the air with my mind, I'd have tossed that drug lord out the penthouse hotel window about 30 minutes into the movie for holding me captive and ramming illegal drugs into my gut. The New Bad-Ass Lucy had that chance when he was relaxing.  Why is he even around for the last act?  And what happened to his proper British assistant who made all the drug mule surgical and travel arrangements?

As for Scarlett Johansson, she does very well as Lucy.  She finds a great vocal tone for the aggressive superwoman.  She takes on a monotone, perfect for someone becoming computer-like, yet it's not a voice without color.  It's not flat.  And her movements as the super-brain take on a slight robotic edge.  Even though she's killing villains, there's still a touch of compassion in her voice for good people.  Like Del Rio and the Professor.  She read the professor's 1000-page textbook in a few minutes and can recite it back to him.  She can contribute to his scientific theories.  She can Skype by simply using her mind.  She doesn't need to touch computer keys.  Professor has to work fast with Lucy.  She wants to give him information, she wants to get the bad guys, and she may have only one day to live.  Which means Morgan Freeman should pick up the pace a touch when he talks to her.  You know how Morgan is.
For a domestic action movie driven by a female lead character, it doesn't make as much scene as Alien and Aliens with Sigourney Weaver or the Terminator movies with Linda Hamilton did.  Blame Besson's writing.  Don't blame Scarlett.  But Johansson keeps you interested because she takes the role seriously.  You have to kick logic to the curb, enjoy Scarlett Johansson and hold on for the all the action.  And there's plenty of it.  Even though this story of a woman with supernatural intellect makes very little sense, I liked seeing a female take the lead in a summer action movie.

As for my reference movie images from the 1940s, here's what I meant:  Actor Choi Min-sik plays the feared drug kingpin, Mr. Jang.  He's a cold-blooded killer.
When his henchman stare at Lucy in the first 20 minutes, you know they have rape on their minds.  Asian men lusting over a young blonde American woman in distress -- that's right out of Hollywood propaganda movies made during World War 2.  Did you ever see the old movie, So Proudly We Hail?  Paramount put its A-list ladies in that drama about brave military nurses stationed overseas during combat in the Pacific.  Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard and blonde Veronica Lake starred.  Lake, with her famed peek-a-boo hairdo, sacrifices herself one night to Japanese soldiers who come a runnin' to get their evil hands on her hooters.

Like Lucy, this patriotic nurse had a surprise for her captors.  This was great for 1943 audiences when millions of American men and women were serving in WW2.  But in 2014, those movie images of the young American blonde and the villainous Asian male can seem rather moldy.
Lucy.  She's young, she's blonde, she's a babe.  And she turns into a tough super-intellect who uses over 50% of her brain power.  Stephen Hawking would pop a wheelie for her in a heartbeat.
This sci-fi/action thriller runs only about 90 minutes long and it's rated R for violence, brief nudity and graphic footage of animals copulating.

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