Lucy (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – Luc Besson and his EuropaCorp studio is the salvation of the unpretentious, mid-budget, hyper-charged action movie. Usually Besson is content to write and produce the films, which have launched careers of such protégés as Louis Letterier (The Transporter), Pierre Morel (Taken), and Olivier Megaton (Colombiana), but he takes charge of this marvelously ridiculous action fantasy starring Scarlett Johansson. She plays Lucy, an American girl in South Korea who becomes the unwitting recipient of an overdose of an experimental designer drug that supercharges her brain and her consciousness along with it.
The premise is built a science cliché that is a misrepresentation at best and outright falsehood at worst—that we only use 10% of our brain, or the potential of our higher brain functions, as the sage professor and narrator played by Morgan Freeman puts it—and the script goes batshit crazy with it. Her growing abilities (measured with regular updates on the percentage of her brain now utilized) are a mix of superhero powers and telekinetic powers indistinguishable from magic and explained with science mumbo jumbo. It’s basically a fantasy wrapped in the guise of science and used as an excuse for an action thriller, but what a thriller. This is a kinetic explosion at its best with Johansson striding through it with a sense of drive and assuredness that is a super power all its own. Weaving through her journey is a revenge tale involving a Korean drug lord (played by Choi Min-sik—Oldboy himself!) and part of the pleasure of the film is how, after such a build-up, unimportant that whole subplot is to Lucy. The way she handles that annoyance is far more effective at explaining Lucy’s transformation than all the exposition spouted by Freeman. Besson’s attempts to frame it in some kind of evolutionary context would be laughable if it wasn’t so damnably fun.
On Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray includes two featurettes and bonus DVD and Digital HD copies of the film. Also on cable and digital VOD.
Rising star Zoe Saldana (Uhura in the big-screen “Star Trek” reboot) takes the lead as a sexy assassin in Colombiana (Sony), the latest from the Luc Besson international action movie factory.
This one is no “La Femme Nikita” — it’s not even a “Taken,” as far as that goes — but once you get past the clichés and the reckless obsession of its heroine, it’s a classic Besson action fest, a souped-up drive-in action thriller with exotic locations (Chicago, New Orleans, Mexico doubling as Bogota), clever set pieces and action sequences that favor impressive physical stunts over CGI-enhanced spectacle. Saldana is a natural as an action star, with her slinky figure, her lithe moves going through vents and snaking through air ducts, her dancer’s moves fighting and shooting. And how could a director with a name like Olivier Megaton not deliver an action blast? It a bit silly, with logical gaps and absurd romantic detours, but a lot of fun.
But for this entry, I’m going to give some love to the B-movie of the week. From Paris With Love (Lionsgate), starring John Travolta as a cowboy of an American agent and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as an ambitious but untrained low-level agent assigned to assist, is another of Luc Besson’s English language Euro-action films, the contemporary equivalent to the drive-in action movie of decades past. As a producer, Besson has perfected the formula in a string of unpretentious but adrenaline-boosted movies: American/British stars in an otherwise French production, a simple narrative without subplots or distractions, launched into with very little preamble and then carried on without taking a breath until you arrive at the end of the ride. This is simply another variation.
As action movie thrillers seem to get more complicated and convoluted with international conspiracies and technological concepts, writer/producer/Euro-action movie entrepreneur Luc Besson’s Transporter franchise is refreshingly simple: a guy is hired to drive a package from one place to another. No names, no explanations, no questions asked. Jason Statham, a former competition diver turned action star, plays driver Frank Martin with his increasingly effective mix of tough guy integrity and emotional unflappability. Statham isn’t much for actorly nuance and it works for the no-nonsense practicality of Frank, a man who takes great pride in his skills and his freedom to apply them as he sees fit.
After the terrific original film, set on the South coast of France, the filmmakers took it on the road to Florida (a big mistake) and filled it with more CGI effects than rubber on the road and metal-on-metal stunts. It’s back in Europe for the third installment (roaming all over the EU) and back on the road with flamboyant stunt driving and copious collisions between Frank and various gangs of thugs that he takes out single-handedly (which is not to take anything away from his pile-driver legs, the defining tools of this competition diver turned action star). Oh yes, there’s one more twist. Okay, really a gimmick, but it’s a fun one: Frank is shackled with a blinking bracelet bomb that beeps if he goes more the 25 feet from the car and will blow him up (along with a good chunk of real estate) if he roams much farther. “Don’t leave the car!” sounds a bit like “Don’t get out of the boat” from Apocalypse Now, but it’s the kind of complication that defines this genre and creates all sorts of complications with colorful solutions and opportunities for absurd stunts. How do you battle a bad guy on a train if you can’t leave the car? It’s just a matter of flying jump and a little creative parking.
That’s essentially what Transporter 3 is all about. The basic plot, which has something to do with the kidnapping of a Ukrainian party girl (Natalya Rudakova) and a cargo ship loaded with toxic waste (so volatile that it’s still bubbling in the barrels), makes no sense at all. An American mercenary (Robert Knepper of the TV series Prison Break) demands the best driver around to deliver his package, but where? And why? The bad guys have agents seemingly five minutes away from any location, so why outsource the driving to a proven wild card? For all the talk of “the plan,” it just seems like a lot of random instructions that don’t add up to anything other than keeping the girl in motion. And what’s the rush? Frank takes so many detours and stop-offs that you have to wonder whether there was any schedule to begin with. Continue reading “New reviews: ‘Transporter 3’ and ‘Four Christmases’”