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Review: Scarlett Johansson Kicks Ass in Luc Besson’s Brainy-Dumb ‘Lucy’

Review: Scarlett Johansson Kicks Ass in Luc Besson's Brainy-Dumb 'Lucy'

Is it possible for a movie to be brainy and stupid at the same time?

Luc Besson’s "Lucy," in which Scarlett Johansson plays a superwoman able to play god with her scientifically enhanced mind, makes a pretty compelling case.

Besson, who hasn’t directed a satisfying action vehicle since "The Fifth Element" in 1997, doesn’t exactly return to form here so much as scatter it all over the place, with the committed Johansson providing a unifying force at the center of the madness.

Though Besson’s screenplay toys clumsily with big ideas involving the history of human consciousness, the plot is simple: The Tapei-based Lucy (Johansson) agrees to deliver a package to the mob on behalf of her boyfriend, who’s promptly killed. Captured by the bad guys, she’s forced into surgery in which the henchmen place a package of drugs into her abdomen in the hopes of turning her into their mule. Instead, when the packet is accidentally punctured, Lucy absorbs their power. Providing de facto narration, these scenes are intercut with a lectured delivered by a psychology professor (Morgan Freeman) on the untapped possibilities of the human mind: Turns out we only use 1%! What might happen if we harnessed its full powers? As Lucy’s eyes turn blue, we find out.

And that’s when "Lucy" shifts from a patently dumb movie — when Lucy is first captured, Besson cuts to shots of a cheetah ensnaring its prey — to a dumb movie that has a terrific time as it goes flying off the rails. Lucy shoots and kicks her way to freedom, finds a doctor to explain her condition, and battles through hordes of other baddies to get to Freeman and share her revelations about life, the universe and everything. The sheer mania that Besson brings to individual showdowns allows it to earn its outright ridiculousness. In the final moments, the entire enterprise literally collapses into a singularity of light, sound and action, as if even Besson himself can’t contain the cockamamie premise he’s dreamed up.

Until then, there’s plenty of enjoyably bonkers moments. When Lucy forces a surgeon at gunpoint to remove the drugs from her bowels, she casually makes a call to her mother in the process, too smart to even flinch at the pain. She kisses a baffled police officer just to remind herself about love. A closing shootout inexplicably involves rocket launchers and a blank white environment that harkens back to "THX-1138." Through it all, handy title cards keep track of Lucy’s evolving brain power in increments of 10 percent, as if she’s proceeding through levels of a video game. In fact, the movie excels at foregrounding a video game aesthetic with its narrative. Lucy knocks out one group of assailants with the wave of her hand, later forcing another to levitate with comical results.

But if she’s an excellent gamer, she’s also found the ultimate cheat code — the character’s so powerful that she’s never really in danger, which prevents the movie from generating any real sense of suspense. Still, Besson’s underlying concept is so absurd that "Lucy" never lacks urprise. The only predictable ingredient is its femme fatale, a motif found throughout Besson’s filmography ever since 1990’s "La Femme Nikita."

With Johansson’s electrifying turn, the conceit of a tough woman defying the powerful men around her takes on cartoonish dimensions. In addition to offering a strong female superhero, still a rarity, it winds up providing a companion piece to Johansson’s similarly domineering turn in Jonathan Glazer’s "Under the Skin," where she plays a seductive alien stalking male prey.

Both movies find Johansson transforming into an unearthly being coming to grips with foreign senses, proving her willingness to use her physicality in unique ways. One shot in "Lucy" that finds the title character suddenly evaporating into particles while hiding an airplane bathroom, which bears a marked similarity to an effect used repeatedly in "Under the Skin," ranks among one of the wildest scenes of the year.

Ultimately, Besson is better at finding charged moments than fusing them together, but it’s impossible to ignore his maniacal vision. Various moments pulsate with fragmented possibilities, alternately channeling the adrenaline-fueled "Crank" movies, "2001: A Space Odyssey," and "The Matrix," never achieving their greatness, but capturing tidbits of its DNA.

As "Lucy" builds toward its climax, the movie concludes with a series of visual punchlines rather than any tidy conclusion. There’s never any question as to the inherent silliness, but Besson makes it endearing and unexpected anyway, delivering an unapologetically stupid antidote to stupid movies that don’t even bother to try something different. "Lucy" doesn’t hold together, but with its flashy innovation, Besson’s trying to freshen the formula. It’s the kind of freewheeling mess of a movie you wish studios would try out more often.

Grade: B-

"Lucy" opens nationwide on Friday.

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Basically same movie as Limitless with Bradley Cooper, which was more grounded. Whereas this one turned into Matrix style. fun ride though


This movie was extremely disappointing. It could have been so much better, with a different ending. She should never have gotten to 100%. That would have been the better thing to dangle out there. I mean, what is is that we would achieve with 100% of our brain being used? To disperse and be everything and nothing at the same time? Big deal.

Abbella Di Noto

I don't care if some say the science in this film is Preposterous! And it actually is not!! It is mind blowing a lot of action, a lot of thrill, a lot of skill. ,! The cinematography, is pure! The acting is perfection! Scarlet J is the only actress for this film. Morgan f. Reprises his former roles as a amalgamation of Mr fox (wanted) and his narration efforts of March of the penguins, so the casting is spot on! It really works the momentum of this film moves quick and only mildly slow when it needs to explain science to the people who don't understand much about it. That it but that is only in tiny doses so it is perfect. I love the opening how it explains what is happening to Lucy by using quick images of mouse approaching a trap and a antelope being stalked by a pride of cheetah! You get the idea. I think even if you are not a science enthusiast or someone who devourers Documentaries as food, you WILL STILL LOVE THIS FILM!! There are parts in this film that make you nearly run for cover or say oh know what!..! Over and over! See this In Big D ! D Box ! Anywhere there is a big screen and hi def sound YOU WONT REGRET, haven't seen transcendence yet! But it kinda reminds me of that .Scarlett As the J Dep character


it looks like a poorly scripted sci-fi channel c rated movie, set to boobs


Having just watched the film I must say that I was slightly underwhelmed. The sensory overload is distracting at best during certain stretches. The cerebral side of the film is very deep and forces the viewers to ask themselves several good questions. As for the 10% myth, it isn't really the focus of the film, albeit the thread that is used to lace the filmmakers questions together. The main focus seems to be aimed at forcing the audience to internally question their own self awareness. I really wish the characters had been fleshed out a bit more, in fact I feel that I was cheated by the film not being long enough in runtime to actually allow more substantial progression. So in conclusion… my personal advice, save the money by not going to theaters to watch the film…but definitely watch the film. I wish that I would have saved the money, but I will, without doubt watch this movie again.


Hey Gary & Ron,
Sounds like you two should hook up for an "irrational (un)apologetic" summer fling ;-p


As much as I love Luc Besson, I can't stand the "we only use 10% of our brains" trope so much that I'm already tired of the movie before having seen it.

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