Watch the trailer for Lucy, the new Luc Besson film starring Scarlett Johansson, and you may have trouble determining just what kind of movie it is. Here we have Johansson as the titular character, a dazed, bottle blonde exchange student, surrounded by the heavies of Taipei druglord Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi), cut open and filled with a bag of blue narcotics (that resembles Breaking Bad’s Blue Sky way too much to be taken seriously).
When she gets walloped in the stomach, the bag bursts, which a. releases the drugs into her system; b. gives her access to more than 10 percent of her brain, the amount normal humans use; and c. allows her to begin exacting brutal revenge on the gangsters as her brainpower grows. Simultaneously, Morgan Freeman as Professor Norman addresses a packed lecture hall in Paris, whimsically delivering a presentation on evolution and brain capacity. With, like, power point slides. (Besson jazzes things up by intercutting Discovery Channel style clips of animals hunting and shagging and stuff.)
I’m guessing the pitch for Lucy was something like Kill Bill… on an episode of Cosmos! No, really. And if you relax, get on board and tweak your suspension-of-disbelief meter to 11, it’s not the worst way to spend 89 minutes.
So what do we have here? Pulse-pounding action flick or cerebral scientific drama? Well, a little bit of both. The archetypal way to pitch a Hollywood movie is to take an existing hit and add a twist. Speed, for example, was described as Die Hard… on a boat! I’m guessing the pitch for Lucy was something like Kill Bill… on an episode of Cosmos! No, really. And if you are willing to relax, get on board and tweak your suspension-of-disbelief meter to 11, it’s not the worst way to spend 89 minutes.
That being said, it’s not for everyone, so let me tease out a bit of what you get on both the action and science fronts.
Action: Lucy on a rampage, killing thugs left and right on her way to the hospital to find out the ramifications of her plight. Lucy ambushing Jang in the middle of a tattoo session and shish kebab-ing his hands with a pair of knives. Lucy piloting a souped-up Peugeot through the streets of Paris, causing untold collateral damage as she zig-zags against traffic. A massive showdown between Taipei gangsters and French cops featuring lots of slow-mo and, naturally, a rocket launcher.
Science: A lot of conjecture by Professor Norman, Neil-de-Grasse-Tysoning his way through questions about what happens as we gain more and more access to our brains. Lucy, as her powers grow, processing all of Norman’s research in moments, learning Chinese, reading minds through her thumbs and developing telekinesis. Also, the ability to change her hair’s color and style on a whim, critical for staying up with the trends—or dodging detection by international authorities. And a CGI-filled journey back in time, all the way to the original Lucy (Australopithecus). You know, the hominid from 3.2 million years ago. (Trust me, they really tried to blow your mind in the last 20 minutes, with mixed results.)
“My dear, I know one thing for certain: You’re the smartest person ever to rock a little black cocktail dress.”
All this activity is, we dare say, more satisfying the less your brain is engaged in the process. If you bring your 10 percent to bear, doubts creep in. If Lucy is so smart, why does she shoot an innocent cab driver for no good reason? Why does she not kill the druglord Jang the first chance she gets? Does someone with seemingly unlimited powers really need to tool around in a Peugeot? And does any of this science actually hold up?
That being said, we dug Johansson’s performance. She becomes increasingly robotic and monotone as her brain power grows, sort of like one of those really smart people who lacks the ability to relate to average-minded folk. Or Keanu Reeves. Amr Waked is also good as Pierre Del Rio, the leader of the French cops who come to Lucy’s aid. Freeman and Choi are solid and Analeigh Tipton is charming in a brief appearance as Caroline, Lucy’s millennial roommate, simultaneously ditzy and jaded.
Which is pretty much how I felt wandering out of this jangly metaphysical mishmash that is, to be fair, a lot of fun while it lasts.