Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi
Rating: ** stars
Luc Besson may or may not believe the central premise of this film — that humans use only 10 per cent of their brains. (Hopefully not, given the whole lot of bunkum that is.) Luc Besson certainly believes his audience is only using about that much of its.
So if there is a woman being lured into carrying contraband, Besson puts in a scene of a mouse, a trap and a cheese cube. When gangsters round up on that same woman, we get cheetahs crawling up on a deer. We get even an explanation for the name ‘Lucy’ — “the first woman who…”, a scientific fact that escapes mutilation for being left half-said.
Besson’s first action film in a long time — shot in his familiar hyperkinetic style — is more fictional science than science fiction, and the trouble is he doesn’t care about the difference. Apart from saying humans use 10 per cent of their brains, it also says dolphins use about 20 per cent of theirs (dolphin brains actually use up about 20 per cent of their metabolic energy, just to clear the confusion). Apart from saying life started on Earth a billion years ago (nearer to 4), it says a human body has a billion neurons (more like 80 billion plus). It has no way of explaining, of course, why should human brain capacity actually increase, people would start controlling other people or the matter around them, learn to automatically read tumours on X-ray, and learn to shoot, fight and plunge hands inside bodies to unfailingly pluck out things like Lucy (Johansson).
All this happens with Lucy when she is kidnapped by some drug lords in Taipei, has her stomach cut open, and has the synthetic version of a powerful drug put inside her body. Then the drug pouch bursts, giving her the power to tap into increasing areas of her brain, eventually building up to 100 per cent.
Lucy will have her revenge, like Kill Bill, gangster mobs will crumble before her, like The Matrix, and Besson will have his moments of philosophical other-worldliness, like A Tree of Life.
Johansson can hardly be expected to emerge from this slip of an idea unscathed, rally on though she does through dialogue that has her whispering to her mother, at 20 per cent brain capacity, “I can remember your milk in my mouth, the taste, the sweetness of it”. The mother, more attuned to her student daughter ingesting other stuff half way around the world, puts the phone down and thinks no more about it.
The one who takes Lucy more seriously is a scientist researching the human brain, Professor Norman (Freeman), there to put his sagely mane behind Besson’s half-cooked ideas. It is he who lays out in detail, to an impressed audience, about brain and its unfathomable possibilities. Norman is the only one apart from Johansson for whom Besson has any time — the Taiwanese, despite an eye-catching performance by Korean actor Min-sik Choi, being largely just shooting practice for the Westerners.
“We have had one billion years. What have we done with life?” Lucy asks. Quite well, one would think, at 10 per cent. But Lucy obviously has other ideas. And they are a no-brainer.