In a summer full of blockbusters with brains, acclaimed director Luc Besson gives us ‘Lucy’, a sci-fi film that explores the maximum potential of the human psyche. Scarlett Johansson stars in the titular role, continuing her recent streak of forward-thinking performances. Set around the grubby Taiwanese underworld, Lucy finds herself in trouble with a local drug lord, and her bloodstream is subjected to a deadly amount of a synthetic substance which lets humans use more than the usual ten percent of their brain capacity. This leads her to track down scientist Professor Samuel Norman, played by Morgan Freeman, who has years of research dedicated to the topic. Will his wealth of knowledge be enough to save Lucy, or will the symptoms prove to be fatal?
On paper, the plot is preposterous and on screen it’s no different but if you put the ridiculousness of it to one side, it is hugely entertaining. All the boxes are ticked for a successful popcorn movie – it has a car chase, an attractive blonde, shades of violence and of course, Morgan Freeman delivering a lengthy monologue. The ambitious scale of the project is illustrated by striking graphic elements, such as the visualisation of phone signals and the abrupt cutting between human interactions and unrelated scenes of animals in the wild in an Apocalypse Now-esque manner to symbolise a correlation between the two. These arty moments feel separate from the core of the film and don’t always fit naturally with the story development, and as the film reaches its closing stages, things go from eccentric to downright bonkers.
In the past year or so, we’ve seen Scarlett Johansson play a computer operating system in Her, a Weegie-stalking alien in Under the Skin and now a physics defying superhuman. She seems to really like the unorthodox parts of late, and with a screen presence as powerful as hers, she makes it all look so easy. As her character transitions into an almost robotic state, she comes across as forceful, commanding and at times scary, yet we are still able to sympathise with Lucy’s situation. Whilst Johansson’s portrayal has many layers, and transforms throughout the film, Morgan Freeman is essentially Morgan Freeman. He doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time to be fair, but when he does he does nothing to steal the show from the lead. I should mention supporting actor Julian Rhind-Tutt who is very effective as a sleazeball associate of the mob boss Mr Jang.
Flawed in its overreaching scope, ‘Lucy’ is still definitely worth seeing for Johansson alone. The film is undoubtedly well made, with filmmaker Luc Besson maintaining his keen eye for a good shot. As director, writer and editor, perhaps he has taken on a little too much this time, and without a creative collaborator, has had nobody to bounce the crazy ideas off of. Despite the problems the film has, it is at least another fantastic example of Scarlett Johansson’s talents. She is an unstoppable force and as Lucy, she gives 100%.
Of late we’ve witnessed a resurgence of beloved veterans going back to cinema, with Michael Douglas returning to work after a brush with death, action heroes such as Sly and Arnie reliving past glories with varying success, and Robert De Niro attaching himself to any film that will have him. The idea of throwing four old dogs together and sending them to Sin City seems easy and rather unoriginal, many labelling the project as the ‘OAP Hangover’ but what is truly amazing is that despite the career lengths of the stars, none of them have ever shared the screen together previously. Director John Turteltaub presents Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro and Kevin Kline as the Flatbush Four, a group of childhood pals who reunite for a bachelor party over fifty years past their prime. Have the gang of respected actors pulled their resources for the ‘legendary’ trip the poster tagline suggests, or will they wish they had stayed at home with the pipe and slippers?
Despite the plot following the expected path of booze, gambling and girls, each of the characters is given a sturdy back-story. The individual arcs lead them into the initial meeting at the airport and intertwine to find a sentimental conclusion. Sam (Kline) is in a marriage which has lost its spark, Archie (Freeman) wants to escape the overbearing care of his son after a mild stroke, Billy (Douglas) is the stag refusing to give in to old age, and Paddy (De Niro) is the most reluctant of the clan to go, still in mourning after the passing of his wife. These deeper, yet still typical, aspects of the story at least give the actors something to get their false teeth into amongst the x-rated ice sculptures and wet t-shirt contests.
The ‘getting old’ narrative offers consistent jokes and witty one liners in the first half of the film, and the mock mafia skit they rustle up is a highlight. Once the Scotch sets in midway, events often take a turn towards the ridiculous yet the experienced cast somehow manage to get away with it. Its clear that they’ve had a lot of fun making it and the chemistry between the friends work, and although none of them really stand out alone, they all manage to hold their own. I could have benefited from one or two more scenes with all four characters together because the camaraderie was so entertaining. Perhaps a lengthier section with them sitting around a casino table reminiscing over times gone by could have been nice? Instead the dialogue was kept rather lightweight and the party scenes were a little too heavy, more reminiscent of geriatric Spring Breakers than the aforementioned Hangover. A few frames tread the line of slightly uneasy viewing as the pensioners grow old disgracefully, ogling at the bikini clad youngsters.
‘Last Vegas’ is far from the disaster that many thought it would be, and surprisingly has more beneath the surface than the first glance would give it credit for. A tender observation of men reaching the autumn of their lives, offering up one or two touching moments as well as the cheap laughs. In the hands of lesser talent, the outcome could have been so much different but the all-star cast manage to add just enough class to see it through. A term that gets bandied around which I usually tend to avoid is popcorn movie, but here it feels very relevant, serving as a welcome injection of light relief during the weighty awards season.