We begin, as in 2001: A Space Odyssey, at the dawn of man – no joke – with a vaguely humanoid simian scooping water into its mouth. Where does Luc Besson’s so, so stupid (and not in a good way) sci-fi thriller go from there? Millions of years forward to modern-day Taipei, where ditzy Lucy (Scarlett Johansson, doing a for-dummies riff on her alien turn in Under the Skin) is forced to be a narcotics mule for a stoic gangster (Choi Min-sik). But after a rough night, Lucy’s surgically implanted packet starts leaking into her system unleashing an experimental stimulant that unlocks corners of the brain never used before.
Sounds super awesome, right? If only. The action sequences are few and far between, and all of them are rendered in that mind-numbing Besson style that’s heavy on the lugubrious slo-mo and winking fetishization. There should be a charge watching Johansson shoot her way into a penthouse suite while classical music blares, but you can barely manage a shrug because it never rises above cool-factor calculation.
Besson’s more interested in the tale’s Z-grade intellectual components, anyway: As Lucy’s egghead confidant (Morgan Freeman, befuddling his way to a paycheck) tells us, most humans only use ten percent of their brain – in reality, a widely debunked urban myth. But what if we could access all 100 percent of our cerebral capacity? Apparently we could make gun-toting henchmen levitate, time-travel with the ease of flipping pages on an iPad, and collect every scrap of wisdom from here to eternity on a truly universal USB drive. The funny thing about all these sub-Matrix shenanigans is that they’re genuinely meant to stoke thought and reflection. Frankly, though, few movies have left me feeling as shorn of grey matter. Keith Uhlich
A Long Way Down Director: Pascal Chaumeil Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots
The novel A Long Way Down is not-quite-vintage Nick Hornby. And this is a disappointing film version, a bit hokey and fake. The big problem is the book’s played-for-laughs concept: four suicidal Londoners planning to top themselves on New Year’s Eve choose the same skyscraper to jump off.
Pierce Brosnan out-mockneys Jamie Oliver as a disgraced daytime telly presenter fresh out of prison after a scandal. Imogen Poots is terrific as a sarky, brattish politician’s daughter (‘it’s exciting to have a celebrity in our suicide midst’). Aaron Paul (Jesse from Breaking Bad) is a failed rocker working as a pizza delivery guy. And, in a weird bit of casting, Toni Collette (hilarious in The United States of Tara) drabs it up as a Home Counties single mum.
It’s not a spoiler to say that no one takes the plunge. There are funny moments: when the story ends up on national news, attention-seeking Poots tells a reporter how they saw an angel resembling Matt Damon on the roof. Rosamund Pike is hilarious as a bitchy TV host.
But it’s hard to care about these characters. None of them is believable for a second. And the film lacks that slip-into-a-Slanket cosy feel you want from Hornby. Cath Clarke
Earth to Echo Director: Dave Green Stars: Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. Deep in suburban America, a trio of 13-year-old boys find a cute alien who’s crashed to earth. But as they make friends with the visitor, sinister forces of adult officialdom swoop in. You can imagine ET phoning his legal team, but although this kids’ sci-fi adventure is derivative, its characters are drawn with more care and insight than you’d expect.
‘Just kids’ is all this lot ever hear from patronising grown-ups, so the story’s ongoing chase scenario, all filmed on their smartphones, gives them some experience of the big bad world (driving cars, venturing into bars). That yearning to be taken seriously will chime with the intended PG audience. And although the boys bond with the creature (a sort of metallic baby owl), it generates little aww-factor, though the special effects and agreeable cast almost make up for it. This is a surprisingly likeable little movie. Trevor Johnston
Barbie and The Secret Door Director: Karen J. Lloyd Voices: Kelly Sheridan, Katie Crown, Chanelle Peloso
This fairy musical is aimed squarely at fans of, Barbie. In this musical animated film the blonde doll plays Alexa, a shy princess who discovers a secret door in her kingdom which leads her – Alice in Wonderland style – into a brightly coloured world of whimsical happenings, and enchanting people and characters.
Inside, Alexa meets Romy and Nori, a mermaid and a fairy, who explain all is not as well as they might appear in the magical world and that a spoiled ruler is trying to eradicate all magic from the land. If your kids like their films with plenty of songs and pink unicorns then this will give you 80 minutes of silence. Time Out staff