(Luc Besson, 2014)
Besson has always had a knack for establishing a simple, gripping high concept dramatic device quickly and economically. The first 10 minutes of Lucy features two examples of this talent; in the first we watch Lucy (Scarlett Johansson, beautifully cast), plainly a bit of a party girl studying in Taipei, as she argues with a newish boyfriend who is trying to persuade her to drop off a mysterious briefcase in a hotel. Of course this errand leaves the boyfirend dead and Lucy in the hands of a Korean gang run by Mr Jang (Choi Min-Sik) who want to use her as a mule, an experimental new drug surgically concealed inside her stomach ready to be transported to Europe. Secondly there is the scene where a terrified Lucy is forced to open the the briefcase she has delivered while Mr Jang and his men hide behind cover in case it is a bomb.
Besson shoots these scenes simply and classically. Some of the style - we must remember that the "movement" of which Besson along with directors like Jean-Jacques Beineix and Leos Carax belonged was known as the "cinema du look" - which so enveloped his earlier work seems to have dropped away, and though Lucy always looks good, there is nothing all that distinctive or remarkable about its visual style.
Instead - and this is new for Besson - the content is fascinating. The ideas in Lucy about human beings only using 10% of our brains and the possibilities if we ever accessed more may be half-baked sci-fi, but at least there are ideas. And Besson expresses them visually, or at least tries to. His film has passages that recall a lobotomised Tree of Life, others that suggest 2001 and Koyanisqatsi. And yet, sometimes the effect is like nothing so much as an extremely well-shot and cut Powerpoint presentation. And that is without mentioning the dissonance created by juxtaposing all that with the international crime drama (the kind of thing Besson's Production company, EuropaCorp, specialises in) that the first act suggests Lucy will become. It never quite becomes that. Instead, that story - of Lucy's attempts to track down the rest of the drug that has allowed her to access more of her brain and hence given her what are in effect superpowers - runs alongside the changes Lucy is registering within herself and how they are effecting her.
As she begins to transcend time and space the film has one foot bogged down in a familiar, predictably violent action film. While Johansson is excellent - this role suggests a sort of dumber companion to Under the Skin - this strange schizophrenia is both the films strength and its great weakness. It makes for a movie that is entertaining, weirdly self-aware, and utterly brainless.