The trouble with LUCY by director Luc Besson

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

I’m a huge fan of Scarlett Johanssson and Luc Besson, director of THE TRANSPORTER, THE FIFTH ELEMENT and THE TRANSPORTER PUTS THE FIFTH ELEMENT IN THE TRUNK AND DRIVES IT AROUND EUROPE.

So I saw LUCY last night in this giant building where the floors are sticky and popped corn drenched with fake butter costs $10 a bag.

The previews looked great and word was this movie is interesting, if not weird. Hey, it’s directed by Luc Besson, who I really want to call Jean Luc Besson, so it’s going to be exciting and fast and weird.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s a great parody trailer:

Is this movie good? Sure. Exciting and different. Worth renting, and maybe watching in the theater.

What keeps it from greatness? The Invincible Hero Problem strikes again.

Hollywood keeps forgetting a simple rule: the villain has to be scarier and tougher than your hero.

Otherwise, there’s no jeopardy, no mystery, and the audience doesn’t care, because we know Reacher will mop the floor with every bad guy, Superman will blast Lex Luther and Keanu Reeves became unstoppable once he stopped saying “Whoa” and realized he was The One.

Invincible heroes are boring.

Lucy becomes impossibly powerful about one-third into this movie. The bad guys have zero chance after that. Zippo. She’s like a blonde Neo who escaped the Matrix, flinging people and cars around, communicated with trees and tapping into cell phone calls simply by looking at the electromagnetic spectrum. She’s a stronger god than Thor at this point, though that would make Chris Hemsworth cry when they film AVENGERS 5: IRON MAN VERSUS BATMAN VERSUS SUPERMAN.

For two-thirds of LUCY, the audience sits back and watches her do whatever she wants. There’s a bit of drama at the end, with the crime lord sneaking up behind her with a gun, though nobody using even 5 percent of their brain believed the villain had a chance of actually shooting her.

A great thriller requires a great villain. The hero has to be an underdog. The weaker you make the hero, and the stronger you make the villain, the better the ending.

Look at THE LEGO MOVIE, where the hero — the little boy — has zero shot of winning against his father, who doesn’t want him playing with his perfectly constructed Lego town. Dad holds all the power and authority. The little boy can’t win by beating his father in a fist-fight. This movie is different, and special, because the hero actually gets the villain to change course by using words instead of bullets, and it makes you cry.

So, peoples of Hollywood, please remember the most basic storytelling rule before you do a page 1 polish of a script that already cost you $5 million and has the names of seven different writers hanging from it already. That rule is simple: the villain must be stronger than the hero. Period. End of story.

If you really want to get crazy, and have some kind of unstoppable hero that you don’t want to change, flip the script and make Captain Invincible Pants your villain. How will the puny humans stop him? Oh, now you’ve got something.

Giving THE TRANSPORTER a tune-up

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

THE TRANSPORTER is the break-out movie for Jason Statham, and though I am perhaps the world’s biggest fan of Jason the Statham Kicking Things in the Face, there are clunky bits rattling around in the engine compartment of this film, keeping it from true greatness.

It’s like a classic car with a gorgeous front end, giant engine and gimpy transmission.

So I’m dragging it into the shop and turbo-charging this thing.

Having recently rewatched THE TRANSPORTER using time-travel technology called Blu-Ray, three things stuck out: the beginning, the middle and the end.

The beginning is amazing. The middle sags.

The ending is underwhelming.

Let’s grab plot wrenches, get our hands greasy and figure out why.

Act 1: A Man and His Car

The first scene of the film is amazing. Frank puts on his driving gloves, fires up his exquisite piece of German engineering and picks up his first package to transport, no questions asked. Turns out to be four bungling bank robbers and this opening car chase is thrilling.

The next major scene brings us to the best part of the movie, after his second job goes bad and Frank’s beloved black sedan goes boom while he’s eating a sandwich. Frank returns to that client’s mansion and rings the doorbell. Result? Awesomesauce.

Act 2: Making Things All Confusing

So that woman you saw in the clip, the one tied a chair with duct tape covering her mouth, well, she was one of the packages in Frank’s trunk, and he broke one of his rules by opening that package and finding her.

Why was she in that trunk? The movie never really gives us a good reason, or any real reason at all. This is why the power of the engine in Act 1 doesn’t get transmitted to the back wheels of Act 3.

The story tries to connect things by saying she’s the daughter of a wealthy bad guy who’s working with the Main Bad Guy from that mansion – you know, the crime lord who blew up Frank’s car – and they’re both make piles of money smuggling people from Asia to Europe in container ships.

The woman says she wants to save those people from slavery and possible death. She lies about her family being in the container, including her father. Who’s actually not inside the container because he’s a villain.

So yeah, it’s a hot mess of tangled plot wires that only makes the audience think too hard, trying to sort things out, which you can’t really do because nothing makes sense.

Also: we never hear why anybody would put this woman into the trunk in the first place. Bit of a problem there.

Act 3: Hey, We Saw a 007 Movie Once or Twice

There are a few more good fight scenes, including the famous Grease Battle in a garage.

Yet the final act devolves into a chase scene that could be taken from any random film involving 007, Jason Bourne or Tom Cruise in Long-Haired Mode While He’s Shooting MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 6: GHOSTS IN MS PAC MAN.

Frank commandeers a crop duster, parachutes onto the convoy of Bad Guys and fights them while trying to steer the semi carrying the container full of people.

In the climax, the father of the love interest gets the drop on Frank, who meekly puts his hands up and gets marched to a cliff and certain doom, though he does grab a rock and seems to be thinking about chucking it at the villains head. You know, eventually. When the mood is right.

He never gets around to it, despite the gun pointed at his nose, and the love interest winds up saving Frank by shooting her dad.

Does that sound anti-climactic? Yes. Yes it does. And it is.

Grabbing a wrench and fixing things

Frank has three simple rules.

Rule Number 1: Never change the deal.

Rule Number 2: No names.

Rule Number 3: Never open the package.

We can fix this movie with three simple plot rules.

Rule Number 1: The hero is the one who changes.

Whatever problem is presented in Act 1, it has to be the hero who fixes it, and he or she must go on a journey to do so. The tougher the journey, the better the story. The more the hero suffers, sacrifices and grows, the better the story.

And in the climax, the hero must face a choice, a single moment where everything hangs in the balance.

The audience is denied these things by (a) not allowing Jason to change and grow and (b) giving the climax to the love interest instead of the hero. She’s the one who shoots the bad guy. Jason is passive in the end. That doesn’t work and is a big reason the ending feels flat.

How can we make Frank change, suffer and grow? Let him lose a few fights. Seriously. It’s a romp, beginning to end, and he’s never really challenged. Let him lose the first few fights. Show him practicing, sweating, training and getting better. Make the uber villain TOUGHER than him and let that villain kick Frank’s butt in their first encounter. Because as things are, it’s a romp. Frank kicks everybody’s butt and you never doubt him for a second. Let the audience doubt that the hero will prevail and make the hero suffer and sacrifice to become good enough to have a chance in the final fight.

Rule Number 2: No surplus names.

When it doubt, cut it out. Kill every character you can and give their role to somebody else.

Which characters waste valuable screen time?

The most obvious one is the father of the love interest. He tangles up the story and detracts from the main villain, the one who blew up Frank’s beloved black car.

The final battle should be between our hero and the uber villain, who dies before the climax. So we’re left with the old man, who’s clearly no physical threat compared to Frank, and that makes for a boring ending.

Solution: eliminate the father as a character and give more screen time to the real bad guy.

Rule Number 3: Never open the fanciest package first.

If you’ve got an amazing action movie, your first step has to be looking at the set pieces. Which one is the most exciting? Which ones are middling? And where are the minor ones?

You need all three types of scenes. It doesn’t work to crank everything up to 11, Michael Bay style, because that simply numbs the audience.

Put the best scenes first and the least-exciting fights last, and your audience will have their expectations bashed against the rocks. They expect things to get more and more exciting as a movie gets closer to the end and you’ll confuse them by reversing the order.

Build up to a climax and put your most exciting scene in Act 3.

So yes, let’s put that amazing mansion fight in Act 3 now, and finish off the movie with Frank fighting the young villain, the one with the bad facial hair, instead of standing around at gunpoint waiting for the love interest to shoot her evil poppa.

This rule also works, by the way, for a series, whether it’s movies or books.

If your first movie is brilliant, your second is good and the closing of the series is average, people will be forever disappointed. They may even hate you for ruining what should be a classic. Am I talking about THE MATRIX trilogy? Maaaybe.

Yet if your first book kinda stinks, your second is good and the last in the trilogy is amazing, people will think you’re a genius, a Lion of Lit-rah-sure.

The same is true for Act 1, 2 and 3 of a single film, even if it’s Jason Statham Kicking Things in the Face.

Pretend it’s Christmas morning. Open the small packages first, the medium ones second and save the biggest, fanciest package for last.