Movie Reviews: Lucy, What If, Deliver Us From Evil

Lucy ****

Movie Reviews: Lucy, What If, Deliver Us From Evil

Lucy (15A) offers another variation on the non-human characters Scarlett Johansson has played recently in Under the Skin and Her. Johansson plays the eponymous heroine, a woman who becomes an über-human after absorbing a radical new drug, her consciousness evolving so far and so quickly that she becomes an entirely new and superior kind of human being.

Written and directed by Luc Besson, the story opens in Taiwan, where Lucy is persuaded against her will to deliver a briefcase to the mysterious Mr Jang (Min-sik Choi). Soon Lucy finds herself in a nightmarish scenario, with a stash of illicit drugs sewn into her abdomen and forced to traffic the narcotic to Europe. Unfortunately for Mr Jang, he hasn’t reckoned on the drug seeping into Lucy’s bloodstream, nor the consequences of her transformation into an indestructible super-human. Already barrelling along at a tremendous pace, the story now becomes a globe-trotting tale of revenge and self-enlightenment as Lucy travels to Europe to meet with Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) in order to discover exactly how far she can expand her mind. It all sounds rather preposterous, and so it is, but Luc Besson is a master of style over substance and he delivers a smart, funny, sharply edited thriller that plays to its visual strengths. The story collapses rather than explodes at the finale, but for the most part this is a hugely enjoyable thriller.

What If (15A) stars Daniel Radcliffe as Wallace, a socially awkward young man living in his sister’s Toronto attic while he recovers from heartbreak. The stars appear to align when Wallace meets graphic artist Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party, but when Chantry mentions her boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall), we’re into the realms of star-crossed lovers. Can Wallace and Chantry remain platonic friends, even as their hearts demand otherwise? Michael Dowse’s romantic comedy offers a familiar set-up but that’s the beauty of What If: it’s a refreshingly old-fashioned, even chaste, take on the much-maligned rom-com genre. Radcliffe is in fine form here, perfectly cast as the gawky, pedantic but noble Wallace, his performance strongly reminiscent of Hugh Grant’s series of bumbling, diffident Englishmen as he struggles to do the right thing by suppressing his emotions. Kazan — granddaughter of legendary director Elia Kazan — is equally impressive, given that her character is by turns whimsical and pragmatic as she finds herself torn between her long-term boyfriend Ben and her soulmate Wallace. The supporting roles are also well served, with Spall in particular a likeable presence as the boyfriend who, contrary to the conventional rules of this genre, doesn’t deserve to be betrayed. Dowse maintains an upbeat, breezy pace throughout, sprinkling proceedings with funny one-liners and a couple of terrific slapstick moments, and the result is a smart romantic comedy of depth and substance.

Deliver Us From Evil (16s) opens in war-torn Iraq, and a platoon of US soldiers excavating a terrifying horror in an underground crypt. We then flash-forward to 2013, as NYPD detective Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) responds to a domestic violence call in Brooklyn, which proves the trigger for a series of bizarre occurrences. Soon Sarchie is working with an unconventional priest, Fr Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), as he struggles to understand the nature of the evil that is seeping up into the streets of Brooklyn. Writer-director Scott Derrickson returns to the material of The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) for the backdrop to Deliver Us From Evil, which is loosely based on the experiences of a real-life NYPD detective. Sarchie is a fascinating character given a fully rounded reading from Bana, a former altar boy and now hard-headed lapsed Catholic who refuses, at first, to countenance the supernatural aspects of the case he is investigating. It’s an intriguing premise, and the movie features a number of genuinely frightening and innovative horror sequences, but it’s also very much a mixed bag. The run-of-the-mill action aspects of the movie tend to undermine the excellent portrayals of the human cost of battling crime and evil, particularly in terms of Sarchie’s deteriorating relationship with his long-suffering wife and young daughter, played by Olivia Munn and Christina Wilson, respectively.

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