Lucy Review – Running on Empty


Director: Luc Besson

Writer: Luc Besson

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked, Choi Min-sik

Lucy_(2014_film)_poster


Release date: July 25th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 89 minutes


 

 

 

3/5

Best part: Johansson’s touching performance.

Worst part: The overblown final third.

French cinematic endeavours, to the common moviegoer, illicit significant emotional and psychological responses whenever they come to light. For most people, this movement sits on a certain pedestal. With that said, one writer/director/producer extraordinaire has spent the past decade turning these stereotypes inside out. With sci-fi extravaganza Lucy, Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional) aims to bolster his wavering reputation.

ScarJo training for Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Relying on past successes to green-light future projects, Besson’s career now resembles a dying animal. Compared to his more substantial efforts, this cinema icon’s recent career turns are pitiful and tiresome. However, with Lucy, Besson is taking appropriate steps toward celluloid salvation. Tackling everything around him, this filmmaker is now embracing his darkest thoughts and pseudo-radical beliefs. Lucy, carrying a tried-and-true premise, tries to be more than the sum of its parts. The narrative takes hold as our lead character brightens up her first frame. As a struggling student, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is feeling the pinch of inner-city living. Pushed around by a sketchy boyfriend and overbearing responsibilities, she finds herself drifting off mid-conversation. However, with her will-power lower than her IQ, she becomes the unfortunate Guinea Pig of a bizarre and potentially- revolutionary drug trafficking scheme. Forcing Lucy into the drug-mule game, the local mob, headed-up by Kang (Choi Min-sik), push our lead’s resolve to breaking point. After a daring escape, Lucy forms a bond with determined French Policeman Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked). Fortunately, this information covers only a tiny part of Lucy‘s intricate and intensifying narrative. Exposed to a mind-bending new drug, Lucy is transformed into a gun-toting, super-powered badass with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Lucy - Morgan Freeman Wallpaper

Morgan Freeman as ‘The Voice’.

Unsurprisingly, this is one of modern cinema’s most overused and undercooked concepts. Everyone knows we use only 10% of our brains, so why does this fact appeal to big-name filmmakers? Well, according to Besson, accessing a higher percentage of brain power will cause worlds to collapse. Admittedly, it’s difficult not to compliment Besson for thinking outside the box. Unlike similar psychological thriller Limitless, Lucy reaches for weightier ideas and motifs. With that said, Lucy is still one of this decade’s most perplexing and laughable action flicks (and that’s saying something). Mixing existential sci-fi drama and mindless action-thriller tropes, Besson’s screenplay comes off like the result of an extended Red Bull marathon. Fusing unique concepts together, the first-two thirds deliver solid emotional moments and fun set pieces. Explaining itself, Lucy‘s narrative discusses the universe’s most valuable puzzle (or so Besson would have you believe). With Lucy Forming an alliance with Professor Samuel Morton (Morgan Freeman), this gripping thriller becomes the year’s most intriguing woman-on-a-mission flick. Sadly, the first-two thirds are undone by a woeful climax and nonsensical resolution. Resembling this year’s sci-fi dud Transcendence, the final half-hour spoils everything that came before it. As is Besson’s tendency, the writer/director’s popcorn-chomping-action side takes over.

“Ignorance brings chaos, not knowledge.” (Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), Lucy).

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Amr Waked as France’s least idiotic cop.

With our heroes going up against Asian gangsters and French police, the climactic action sequence lends little depth or personality to the final product. Despite this, I should give credit where it’s due. Unlike his preceding effort The Family, Besson’s latest dares to explore otherworldly realms. Looking past its conventional premise, Lucy’s overbearing message responds to everything effecting our world. Explaining Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Besson uses stock footage to explain the smallest details. Overdosing on visual metaphors, Lucy comes off like a stoned philosophy major shoving his/her theories in our faces. Matching gripping sequences with dodgy CGI, Lucy is certainly a mixed bag. However, certain highlights save it from critical and commercial lashings. The action and torture sequences, though over-emphasised, deliver enjoyable moments whilst bolstering its tight pace. The Parisian car chase injects adrenaline into Lucy‘s veins. However, eclipsing the whiz-bang set pieces, Johansson elevates this sci-fi flick above similar fare. With just a handful of expressions, Johansson’s searing performance lends a solid core to her inconsistent character. Unfortunately, Freeman and Min-sik are stranded in thankless roles.

From the opening scene – depicting Earth’s first primate/human inhabitant – onward, its clear that Lucy is not for the strictly religious or simple minded. Despite the big-budget spectacle and A-list stars, Besson’s latest forces us to revel in his warped mindset. However, like with similarly surreal The Fifth Element, his ideas don’t gel like they should. Like our lead character, Lucy is an inconsistent yet alluring creation.

Verdict: Like Lucy herself – slick but insecure.

3 Days to Kill Review – Dead on Arrival


Director: McG

Writers: Luc Besson, Adi Hasak

Stars: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen

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Release date: June 20th, 2014

Distributor: Relativity Media

Country: USA

Running time: 117 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Costner’s hard-edged performance.

Worst part: The dodgy action-direction.

Known for tear-jerking baseball/ghost flicks and the movie that inspired Avatar‘s by-the-numbers storyline (Dances with Wolves), actor/director/producer extraordinaire Kevin Costner has been thrust back into the spotlight. Embarrassingly, I don’t think anyone was asking for his return. However, amiably, this All-American bloke is keen to repurpose his charming persona and limited range for a vastly different generation. In addition, this cool-calm-and-collected star hopes to reinvigorate a particular type of character – the father figure.

Kevin Costner.

Now emblazoned with crows feet and grey-tinged stubble, this brand of Costner elevates, but never legitimises, ultra-moronic actioner 3 Days to Kill. Donning a suitable facade, this veteran Tinseltown icon has fallen into a morose and vapid trap. Sadly, Costner is now wrapped around ‘acclaimed’ writer/director Luc Besson’s gargantuan middle finger. Labelled by pop-culture as a “factory” or “school”, Besson’s stranglehold on French film production is fuelled by optimistic executives and stylish action beats. Repeating himself over multiple decades, this auteur has developed a knack for handing responsibilities, and blame, off to other writers, editors, cinematographers, and directors. Kicking off Pierre Morrel (Taken) and Louis Leterrier(Unleashed)’s perfunctory careers, Besson now places his trust in one of Hollywood’s most despised directors. However, before I talk about him, I should examine 3 Days to Kill‘s meaningless and confused plot. Trust me, this synopsis won’t take too much out of you. Costner plays grizzled CIA operative Ethan Renner. Suffering a bizarre illness, Renner’s health could potentially disrupt his next major assignment. Renner’s team, aided by CIA assassin Vivi (Amber Heard), is assigned to track down a dangerous arms dealer, the Wolf (Richard Sammel), and his lieutenant, the Albino (Tomas Lemarquis). After the mission is obliterated, Renner coughs up blood and passes out before waking up in a hospital.

Amber Heard.

As it turns out, Renner has malignant brain and lung cancer. Given 3-5 months to live, he heads to Paris to send some quality time with his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and their daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld).  As you can tell, 3 Days to Kill‘s story neither says nor does anything original or intriguing. From the opening action sputter onward, the movie’s plot-points, twists, and character turns become visible from miles away. The narrative, copied and pasted from Besson’s previous efforts (Leon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita), makes for devising a fun game out of pinpointing certain French action-thriller tropes. However, given the budget, resources, and talent on offer, this derivative and inconsistent narrative just isn’t acceptable. Director McG (the Charlie’s Angels series, Terminator Salvation) treads over and slips across tired, old ground. Yet again, McG’s bizarre and inconsequential style covers farcical situations, spies, and explosive action sequences. Failing to eclipse his TV series, Chuck, 3 Days to Kill delivers frustrating flashbacks to McG’s preceding flop This Means War. In addition, like Renner’s illness, Besson’s style infects the movie’s more valuable conceits. Like that atrocity, this actioner mistakes genre-hopping antics for jarring tonal shifts. With useless comedic hijinks clashing with heartfelt moments, the movie’s tone is as shaky and destructive as Renner’s ailing condition. Haphazardly, the movie also juggles Renner’s parenting issues, an African family squatting in his dingy apartment, and several wacky torture sequences. Bafflingly, this concoction of Taken and The Transporter lacks stakes, pacy thrills, and grit.

“The longer I was gone, it felt like the harder it was to come back.” (Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), 3 Days to Kill).

Connie Nielsen & Hailee Steinfeld.

Despite the directorial foibles and insufficient screenplay, 3 Days to Kill delivers enough enjoyment to last…about 2 hours in the memory banks. In fact, this movie is worth little more than a lazy, hangover-induced Sunday morning. Sadly, the extensive run-time outlasts the movie’s more gripping aspects. After the second act, the narrative falls head-long into predictable revelations and tiresome shootouts. Wrapping up plot-lines in ethically questionable and unfulfilling ways, this action-thriller could, and should, send Besson and co. back to the drawing board. Despite this, this mindless actioner still delivers entertaining action sequences and witty lines. The shootouts and fist-fights, utilising Paris’ gorgeous aesthetic, are fun distractions in this po-faced schlock. However, in typical McG fashion, the sound design and editing fatally misfire. Held hostage by misplaced gunshots and quick-cuts, McG’s approach undercuts everything Besson’s work promises. Overcoming the woeful direction and dialogue, Costner’s inherent charm saves this bland and uninspired effort. After scintillating turns in Hatfields & McCoys and Man of Steel, this veteran star can still deliver touching performances. With Liam Neeson seemingly unavailable this time around, Costner skilfully adapts to each set-piece. Despite his limitations, his action moments elevate this forgettable effort. Meanwhile, taking on a pseudo-Sin City vibe, Heard overtakes Denise Richards for the title of ‘Sexiest Blonde to Envelop Unconvincing Roles’.

With Besson and McG at the helm, 3 Days to Kill is as predictable, tedious, and groan-inducing as you’d expect. Treating constructive criticism like a mind hindrance, Besson’s money-grubbing system deals perfunctory efforts out to desperate hacks. However, with Costner anchoring the silly narrative, this action-thriller is still more tolerable than Columbiana, Taken 2, and Lockout. Well done, McG – you’ve finally made something that’s considered better than something else.

Verdict: A misstep in Costner’s career renaissance. 

Taken 2 Review – Second-rate Massacre


Director: Olivier Megaton

Writers: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen

Stars: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Rade Serbedzjia


Release date: October 5th, 2013

Distributors: EuropaCorp Distribution, 20th Century Fox

Country: France

Running time: 91 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Liam Neeson.

Worst part: Poor action set-pieces.

In 2008, Taken became a worldwide box office success and critically acclaimed French-American thriller. It turned into a surprise hit for contemporary action cinema and changed the career of now 60 year old veteran actor Liam Neeson. The original’s comfort food-like enjoyability not only created Neeson’s current action hero status but was a rare win for French action cinema great Luc Besson. As it was several notches above most contemporary action schlock with Besson’s name on it as co-writer and producer, it was inevitable that a sequel would occur. Unfortunately, Taken 2 becomes what everyone feared the original was going to be.

Liam Neeson.

This clinical and forgettable action flick takes the fun out of the original, turning a gritty look at Eastern Europe into a much bigger yet blander Hollywood-ised follow up. This time, the string of slimy Albanian mafia members murdered by Bryan Mills (Neeson) in the original are now being laid to rest. Mafia boss and father of one of Mills’ victims (Serbedzjia) vows vengeance on his son’s murderer. Joining Mills in Turkey, ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) are still trying to move on from Kim’s abduction. But the mafia soon catches up to them, leaving the resourceful Mills and his family to escape their captors and destroy the avenging European villains once and for all.Continuing Neeson’s busy year after The Grey, Wrath of the Titans and Battleship, Taken 2 is an unoriginal, disappointing and dull action thriller. Borrowing elements from influential action thrillers and directors from the past decade, what is left is a shadow of the subtle yet violent original.

Maggie Grace.

Maggie Grace.

Tony Scott’s frayed visuals and grunge soundtrack are replayed over and over, without creating a suitable tone for every dirt covered setting and brutal murder. Along with blatantly borrowing two songs from last year’s Drive soundtrack, Director Olivier Megaton (one of Besson’s regulars with The Transporter 3 and Columbiana to his credit) sorely replaces brutality with scale, decreasing the emotional and visceral impact of the low budget original. With the original effectively focusing on the European mafia’s sex and drug trafficking trades, the sequel quickly falls into generic revenge thriller territory. Neeson’s ageing anti hero and overly protective father searching for his daughter created a scary yet affable character for Neeson’s dramatic talents. The new film repeats several of Mills’ ‘particular set of skills’, not only simplifying his awareness of every street corner and sound but blandly flashing back to already witnessed events. Despite Neeson’s usual charisma, his character here is little more than a generic Bourne-like action hero. The family’s problems cover the first 40 minutes of this boring pseudo-remake. What should be discussed about their previous overseas travels is only touched on in flashback, instead discussing uninteresting quarrels such as Kim’s driving lessons. The film from this point on is a xenophobic and excessive look at European culture. Turkey apparently contains nothing but mob informants on every corner and a serious lack of competent authorities. 

“I have to make sure these people never bother us again in our lives.” (Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), Taken 2).

Famke Janssen.

Famke Janssen.

The implausibilities of every situation are fun to point out, yet take more of the realism away from this relatively low key thriller. The seemingly unlimited number of European villains are continually mowed down by Neeson with relative ease. While the instructions given to his daughter running around Istanbul quickly extend to unsubtle heroic actions, particularly involving grenades going off in broad daylight. The action sequences, though choreographed with a realistic and bone-crunching style, suffer from quick cuts, confusing digital strobing effects and shaking cameras. Taking away from the brutality and impact of the original, the bloodless and confusing action sequences are the result of Taken 2 being sorely cut down to fit the film’s inexplicable M15+ rating. While the film’s climactic Bourne Supremacy-like taxi cab chase is edited too tightly around every twist and turn through Istanbul’s narrow streets. Luckily, the performances save this generic actioner from being completely interminable. Neeson pulls off the heroic secret agent role with a balance of ferocity and charm. Grace steps up to the role of her parent’s saviour with vulnerability. While Janssen and Serbedzjia are underused in important roles.

Ultimately, the film takes too long to decide what it wants to do. With an uneven pace and one generic twist and turn after another, what is left is very little to recommend and a classic example of sequelitis. Dear Mr. Neeson, please pick better material!

Verdict: Stick with the original.