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Lucy ••

Lucy_(2014_film)_posterStarring:  Scarlett JohanssonMorgan FreemanMin-sik Choi

Director: Luc Besson

Screenplay: Luc Besson

Science-Fiction/Action/Adventure, Rated: R

Running Time: 89 minutes

Release Date: July 25, 2014

Lucy: Single, P-PP Mental, Pro (Classic Long Hero)

Choi: Single, N-N Moral, Ant (Untransformed Mastermind Villain)


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, as a kid I probably watched every episode of I Love Lucy.

Well, there wasn’t much to love about Lucy – I thought it was Loucy.

Ouch! Let’s recap. We meet a young woman named Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), who unknowingly delivers a briefcase containing large quantities of a dangerous drug to a Korean mob boss (Min-sik Choi). The drug is CPH4, a powerful hyperactive stimulant. Lucy and three other people have bags of CPH4 surgically implanted into their abdomens. Forced into drug muledom, they are flown to several major European cities.

Lucy is held captive in a Taipei cell and beaten and kicked which causes the bag of CPH4 to rupture. She receives a mega-dose of the drug which then starts to open her mind. Meanwhile, Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) is in Paris lecturing on the potential of the human brain. He proffers that humans use only 10% of their brain. If we used 20% then we’d have the ability to do amazing things – things he can’t even imagine. Lucy uses her newly found powers to escape her cell and is now on a quest to find the man who performed the awful operation on her and exact her revenge.

Lucy is a preposterous yet fun look at what would happen if a human being could maximize her cerebral potential. The movie features a curious mix of scientifically accurate facts about the brain with scientifically spurious fluff. As a psychologist, I probably should have been offended by the movie’s bogus premise that human beings use only 10% of their brain capacity. But truth be told, almost every movie we see requires some suspension of disbelief. I just turned off my 10% (sic) and enjoyed the ride.

Despite frequent lapses in veracity, this movie is slick and competently pieced together. Dramatically, we have an interesting hero story featuring Lucy who undergoes about as great of a dramatic a transformation as a hero can possibly endure. It’s fascinating to see CPH4 mutate Lucy’s mind and body in unimaginable ways. Unfortunately, witnessing her hero transformation is not the most satisfying adventure to witness because, after all, Lucy doesn’t voluntarily choose to change. The changes are biologically driven.

Wow. You are so incredibly generous to this complete waste of film. I don’t have your superhuman knowledge of the inner workings of the brain and yet I was completely offended by the techno-babble spewing from Morgan Freeman’s mouth.

The whole movie was one amazing tele-something super capability after another. Lucy is locked in a cell? At 20% of brain power she has amazing strength and knows kung-fu. Lucy needs to speak Chinese? At 40% she learns a language in under an hour. Lucy needs to talk to the Professor? At 60% she controls all functions of the entire internet and can flash lights on and off from across the globe. This was one implausable event after another. Whenever she needed something to get out of a jam, another 10% of brain power conjures the solution. I can’t even call this movie science fiction as there was absolutely no science involved.

Other than that it was fine.

I’m also deeply disturbed by what this film thinks a super-smart female looks like. When Scarlett Johansson wants to appear intelligent she stares blankly ahead and twitches her head from side to side. I guess that’s her idea of what smart people do. She loses all emotion and kills people for the slightest indiscretion – like not knowing how to speak English. She is completely motivated by revenge. Her elevated IQ doesn’t give her any insight into the heart of mankind – only the ability to kill efficiently. There is no internal character scrutiny here – it is all mindless mayhem at the will of a beautiful black widow [pun intended].

For some reason I was able to overlook all the silliness you mention, Greg. I enjoyed witnessing Lucy’s powers evolve over time, not just quantitatively but also qualitatively. For a while, I felt like I was watching the origin story of a great female superhero. Like many superheroes, she is accidentally exposed to a strange chemical which gifts her with special abilities. Unlike you, Greg, I didn’t see her misuse her powers; I only saw her using her abilities to survive. At the film’s end, she gives humanity the gift of her vast knowledge, a fitting end to any hero’s journey.

Sadly, there is plenty of contrived tension featuring bad guys who are closing in on Lucy when it’s obvious that she has the power to squelch them effortlessly. One of my complaints – and I do seem to have a bunch of them – is that the villains are ruthless but not terribly well fleshed out. We’ve seen this too many times: Shallow villains with a foreign look and a foreign accent are a dime a dozen in Hollywood.

I have to disagree with you again, Scott. At least the villain in this story gets his hands dirty. In other villain patterns we see the “boss” or “mastermind” sitting at the top of the food chain giving orders while henchmen do the dirty work. Mr. Jang has no problem carving, shooting, or slashing anything that gets in his way. You’re right, the villains were way over the top – quite in line with the absurdity of an all-powerful hero.

Lucy aims high in its ambition to create an intelligent movie with action-adventure thrills. Instead, we get a mindless stream of psychobabble and half-science that even Morgan Freeman with his velvety gift for explanation can’t deliver. This is a bad retread of the same premise from 2011’s Limitless (featuring the beautiful Bradley Cooper) which at least knew its “limits.” I give Lucy a mere 1 out of 5 Reels.

The hero is such a blank in every way. Scarlett Johansson gives Lucy no real personality and certainly no heart. The smarter she gets, the less human she becomes. I’d like to think we don’t need to fear the superintelligent. This movie delivers a message to young girls that becoming super smart makes you scary to men. But on the bright side, it also means you can become a badass. I give Lucy just 1 Hero out of 5.

Unlike you, I found something to like in the villains in this story. True, they are pure evil with little to ingratiate themselves to the audience. But the main guy at least has the decency to carry out his own acts of barbarism. I give him 2 out of 5 Villains.

Movie: reel-1 Villain: villain-2 Hero: h-logo-1

If you’re willing to turn a high percentage of your brain off for 90 minutes, Lucy is a fun look at what might happen if human beings were able to fulfill their maximum cognitive potential. There are missteps in the making of this film but Lucy manages to make us ponder where the human race is headed evolutionarily. Lucy won’t win any awards but takes us on an entertaining, multi-continent adventurous ride. I’ll generously award Lucy 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s story is problematic in that Lucy’s journey isn’t one that any one of us is likely to face. She doesn’t naturally overcome any missing quality to prevail, and her ability to overcome obstacles is derived from a biological accident. Still, we do find ourselves pulling for her and she does give back to humanity in a big way at the end. I’ll give Lucy 2 Heroes out of 5.

The villains aren’t anything special here and merely exist to get in Lucy into trouble and then scramble to thwart her later. Greg, you’re right that the main villain actually gets his hands dirty for a change. Alas, this departure from the norm doesn’t make him any more interesting than other razor-thin villains we’ve seen this year, and so the best I can do is award Lucy’s foes a mere 2 Villains out of 5.

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  1. Marian says:

    I expected a thriller or action movie… or science fiction, but it was jarringly dark in the beginning. I feel after some reflection that it works pretty well as a fantasy. And philosophically, whether true or not, I enjoyed the concept that there is a reason that we only use a part of our brains… but all the background stuff that’s happening is background for a reason. That if we were conscious of metabolism, and our connection to the universe and every other atom, then we would miss out on what it means to be human… and the everyday life part of being human. Spiritually, this is close enough to my belief system to have been pretty satisfying in the end. That we are here and human for a reason, and maybe it’s okay not to have a firm grasp of the big picture… To just be human. Anyway, I think it would have worked better as a little Art house movie but was a little crazy for mainstream, so they expanded fight scenes and car chases to keep it worthy of big budget… (really, teleportation was more likely than a car chase!)

    • Greg Smith says:

      Thanks for your comment, Marian! I’m glad you were able to get a spiritual message from this film. I couldn’t find that message amongst all the noise. Maybe I wasn’t looking for it.

      • Marian says:

        Lol, yeah… there was a LOT of noise. It was also a little heavy-handed with the Sistine Chapel moment!

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