Three years ago, director Luc Besson tried to do prestige, directing an Oscar-bait biopic about Burmese political dissident Aung San Suu Kyi titled The Lady. It didn’t work out for anyone, but at least Besson is back where he clearly feels more at home: stylized violence punctuated by surreal chaos. In Lucy, Scarlett Johansson plays an American party girl studying in Taiwan who is kidnapped and forced to be a drug mule for an Asian gangster (Choi Min-Sik). But when the pouch of mysterious blue crystals ruptures in her gut—following a savage beating—the wonder drug begins to expand her human potential at an alarming rate. First, she’s transformed into a sexy Jason Bourne, out for revenge. Then she becomes Neo, a superhero with near omnipotence. And her ultimate destiny, before the high can wear off, might be complete transcendence.
On paper, Lucy is nothing more than a standard Milla Jovovich action movie, but Besson amps it up by going way past the recommended dosage of cinematic insanity. The whiplash imagery and frenetic editing give the audience a contact high of sorts—was that a freakin’ dinosaur?—transforming what should be ridiculous into genuine bizarro excitement. He has successfully crossbred the superhero film with the Asian-gangster genre, and the film’s car chase through the streets of Paris might be one fetishists celebrate from now on.
Lucy is a thinly drawn character, just someone who needs to survive, but Johansson vividly conveys the initial terror of her dire circumstances before shifting into the calculating, almost robotic mode of an alien being flicking away mere mortals. By the time the film exhausts itself—in a brisk 89 minutes—it feels like there’s literally nowhere that Lucy and Besson can’t go, no boundaries, no laws, no logic. Just go with it. B