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Santa Maria Sun / Film

This weeks review

'Lucy' starts with a bang and ends with an eye roll




Where is it playing?: Parks Plaza

What's it rated?: R

What's it worth?: $4.00 (Chris)

What's it worth?: $5.00 (Glen)

User Rating: 0.00 (0 Votes)

Writer-director Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element) helms this story about a young woman (Scarlett Johansson) implanted with a bag of drugs and forced to smuggle them, but the bag breaks and she’s transformed into a super human. She enlists the help of brain specialist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) to try to make sense of her new powers. (90 min.)

Editor’s note: Glen Starkey’s Split Screen partner Anna Starkey is out of town, so New Times contributor Chris Daly is sitting in.


Glen: For me, Luc Besson bats about .250. Twenty-five percent of his films I think are genius. The other 75 percent? Well, some are worth a matinee and others are foul balls. Lucy is definitely not one of his home runs, but maybe—if you really like Scarlett Johansson and outlandish sci-fi—it’s a base hit. Its first third is excellent. We see Lucy the vacationing party girl, who’s gotten herself involved with a sleazy drug mule. The scene when he first tries to talk her into delivering a briefcase and then finally forces her to is exceptional. It’s interspersed with nature scenes of predators stalking prey, a great visual metaphor. In the second third, I was still hanging in there, even though the film’s premise—that we only use 10 percent of our brain and what happens if we tap into 100 percent?—is nonsense, I still enjoyed watching her transformation. Unfortunately, the film goes off the rails at the end and becomes absurd. Hey, it’s summer. I get it. But this may be the dumbest big summer movie this year.

Chris: Definitely dumbest and wackiest of all the summer flicks I’ve seen. I was along for the ride at the beginning, but I had checked out by my 10th eye roll. The mix of Luc Besson and a woman with omnipotent powers immediately reminded me of Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) from The Fifth Element: the “perfect being”—Leeloo can learn karate and language faster than Neo can say “I know kung-fu.” But where Leeloo learns these things and it’s fun to watch, Lucy just turns into a humorless robot—a Scarbot if you will. And with so many great performances from Ms. Johansson this year, this one clearly sits at the bottom.

Glen: I hear what you’re saying. She already played an emotionless alien in Under the Skin, which was a remarkable, arresting, and original film. In that film, as her alien being continues to try to pass as human, she seems to begin to acquire human emotions. Here, as Lucy’s knowledge increases, she loses more and more of what makes her human. I will say that Johansson was acting her ass off in the first third, but as she transforms, you’re right: stiff. And as for the “science,” I guess if one was a college sophomore with some psychology and philosophy classes under one’s belt, one might ponder—as Besson does—our place in the universe, our oneness with it, how we purposely create simplistic systems that allow us to make sense of our world with the puny 10 percent of our brain we have at our disposal. Except saying we use only 10 percent of our brains is like saying we only use 10 percent of our bodies when sleeping. The theoretical science of the film is generally laughable. In fact, I may be unfairly maligning sophomoric thinking with my comparison (Sorry, sophomores! Keep up the good work!). That aside, there are some effective fight sequences, chase sequences, and special effects. In fact, there’s a lot to mindlessly enjoy here. I only wish the director had been able to extend that promising first third into an intelligible film. But, nope, that didn’t happen.

Chris: Don’t be too generous. Some of the action scenes were good, but most of them were just boring. A shootout at the end was just a waste of time, and a car chase scene had a lot of CG cars in it. Give me a Bourne movie chase scene any day of the week. And let me get back to the “science” of the movie: It’s very dumb. Morgan Freeman’s speech about what humans would be like if we used more of our brains’ capacity seemed like the most watered-down TED talk I’ve ever seen, and he’s supposed to be at the top of his field. Lucy, on the other hand, just seems to learn her ways out of thin air. When she starts kicking ass and hacking the Internet, it’s never explained where she would get such skills. But it’s all for gimmick. There’s a scene where Lucy is typing away at two laptops mindlessly, and it’s meant to show how smart she is but it just looks like when a child hits random keys and does it really fast. This isn’t amazing me; it’s making me laugh at how dumb she looks.

Glen: Well, if you want to get nitpicky, there are all kinds of things that make no sense, like why when she’s supposed to be smuggling the drugs on an airline she’s instead locked in a cell and kicked in the gut. But hey, I’d rather watch a dumb summer film like this than another installment of Transformers or G.I. Joe. At least it has a bit of humanity!

Chris: True dat. And I do like seeing a woman kick ass rather than Mark Wahlberg trying to pass himself off a Texan. But there have been so many great movies this summer, it’s hard to give this one a pass. Instead, look up Besson’s earlier work like The Professional or La Femme Nikita. The ride is much more rewarding.


Split Screen is written by New Times staff writer Glen Starkey and others. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.