Film reviews: Lucy | Two Days, One Night

Scarlet Johansson stars in Lucy. Picture: Contributed
Scarlet Johansson stars in Lucy. Picture: Contributed
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SOME people can’t stand Luc Besson’s hyperactive cutting, his colour-saturated imagery and his high-velocity cameras yoked to tempos fuelled by thunderous music. At times, he is more Ibiza DJ than director.

Lucy (15)

Scarlett Johansson stars in Lucy. Pic: Contributed

Scarlett Johansson stars in Lucy. Pic: Contributed

Director: Luc Besson

Running time: 89 minutes

***

But his new film Lucy plays out as a mash-up of Besson’s own Taken, blended with Frankenstein and Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, and for most of its short running time this is sincerely, watchably and gloriously crackers.

Mind you, when Scarlett Johansson first teeters on screen as a rather dim bulb American student, you might fear the worst. Living in Taipei with a dubious new boyfriend (Borgen’s Pilou Asbaek) she agrees to deliver an ominous locked suitcase to a Mr Jang, played without subtitles by the great Korean actor Choi Min-sik from Oldboy. Besson’s images of leopards savaging quivering gazelles telegraph that Lucy is a pretty dumb chick. But not for long.

In the hotel she is pressed into serving as a mule for a new drug that causes runaway cell growth. A bag is stitched into her stomach and, of course, it soon bursts. A life-changing, mind-altering change is triggered – and Johansson is now able to access more than the normal 10 per cent of her brain.

That’s a bad-science stat that will make snarky biologists groan, but let’s cut Lucy a break. As her IQ climbs, she can learn languages in seconds, and access all her memories right back to birth. This being a Besson film, she also finds a memory file on How To be A Ninja Warrior, although successfully fighting off all comers seems more of an issue of brawn than brain. She does her heavy lifting using the power of the mind, impatiently clearing obstacles just by thinking about waving them aside.

An academic specialising in brain theory (Morgan Freeman) is first awestruck then horrified by the possibilities of Lucy, who is able to rearrange time, space and DNA, yet is reluctant to ditch those dicey high heels.

One of the film’s intriguing notes is that increased brainpower also means a loss of humanity, so that when Lucy encounters delays, she takes Hobbesian action – nasty, brutish and short. When a taxi driver is uncooperative, she simply shoots him, and to jump the queue with a busy surgeon, she kills off his current patient.

Action fans should be reassured that there are plenty of exuberantly cheap thrills in Lucy, but refreshingly not at Johansson’s expense. After all, Besson originally hoped to persuade Angelina Jolie to play the role, and historically he does like powerful women. One of his first films was a collaboration with Anne Parillaud as the assassin, La Femme Nikita, and later he launched Milla Jovovich as a superpowered alien in the Fifth Element. Incidentally, Besson married both of those actresses. Nice bodyswerve, Scarlett.

The trouble is that while Lucy is supersmart, her script (also by Besson) is not. It’s clearly groping towards a statement about evolution but eventually falters over the metaphysics, and although Johansson is terrific, her film is dumbed-down by other actors giving line readings that recall the glory days of 70s foreign-movie dubbing. For most of the picture, however, a Johansson firing on all cylinders imbues the picture with a brisk brio.

God Help The Girl (15)

* *

Here are some things you don’t see in musicals: canoeing, a psychiatric ward, Glasgow University. Here are some things you might expect from a musical by Belle and Sebastian’s frontman Stuart Murdoch: luscious Burt Bacharach arrangements, French new wave stylings, gently cruel confessional indie-pop.

The two groups who will draw the most pleasure from Murdoch’s move from songs to writing, directing and producing his first film are connoisseurs of raw whimsy and Belle and Sebastian completists. Others may feel tested by the film’s awkwardness, as it flits back and forth between the practical and the fanciful.

A slight plot centres on Eve, who discovers songwriting gives her the strength to escape the hospital where she’s being treated for eating disorders. Out in Glasgow’s West End, she’s offered a flatshare with James (Olly Alexander), who fancies Eve and also fancies himself as something of a musical guru. Along with James’ ditzy pal Cassie (Hannah Murray) they decide to form a band, neatly taking care of most of the film’s musical cues.

Dramatically, the film feels as episodic as a video box set, but at least there is a sense that Murdoch is paddling his own canoe, has a good eye for untapped Glasgow landscapes, and delivers an ebullient tea dance sequence for I’ll Have To Dance With Cassie. If only the characters were more focussed: as it is there’s a sense that this a heartfelt film, without really touching the heart.

Two Days, One Night (15)

****

Marion Cotillard discovers her co-workers have chosen to vote her out of work so they can collect a bonus. She has a weekend to change their minds. Another stark essay in desperation from the remarkable Dardennes Brothers.

Edinburgh Filmhouse, Friday to 4 September

Wakolda (12A)

***

In the 1960s a doctor calling himself Helmut Gregor befriends a naive family in a South American village and takes a creepy interest in their undersized 12-year-old daughter. He is notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele and Lucia Puenzo’s queasy thriller builds up into a quietly effective monster movie

Edinburgh Filmhouse and Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday to 25 August

What If (15)

***

Daniel Radcliffe stars as a recently heartbroken student who meets a smart, funny woman (Zoe Kazan) who could be his soulmate but is also already engaged. Radcliffe and Kazan are appealing, even if their banter is a bit so-what.

On general release from Wednesday

Hide Your Smiling Faces (15)

***

Two young brothers have to deal with a sudden bereavement. Low-key, hazy coming of age picture that has good naturalistic performances but lacks purpose.

Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday to 28 August

Into The Storm (12A)

**

By-the-numbers disaster pic that pits The Hobbit’s Richard Armitage against a massive storm. Contains such exciting dialogue as “these updrafts are insane” and everyone makes heavy weather of the underwhelming CGI.

On general release

Deliver Us From Evil (15)

**

Eric Bana stars as a tough cop unnerved to find a case of demonic possession on his beat. Sinister, solemn and so familiar you could write the Latin curses in your sleep. Contains a truly hellish amount of The Doors.

On general release