A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman. 3 of 4 stars
The French writer-director’s latest cinematic mind-job mashes up the rainbow hues and superwoman savior concept from his ridiculously entertaining “The Fifth Element” and the blood-pumping car chases and shoot-ups from his crazily stylish “Transporter,” then adds hefty doses of “The Matrix”-style high-concept sci-fi musings.
“Lucy” is based on that old chestnut that people only use 10 percent of their brain capacity, a notion that modern science has debunked. Since Besson veritably embodies the phrase “style before substance” – and it is a movie, after all – the auteur nevertheless takes the concept and flat-out runs with it. Wisely, he keeps “Lucy” a sprint, a breathless 90-minute dash that thoroughly entertains and then ends before the ludicrousness of it all can knock moviegoers off track.
After playing a supporting role in the Marvel cinematic universe, Scarlett Johansson proves she has the chops to carry an action movie all by herself as Lucy, an American student living in Taipei, Taiwan, who has gone a bit wild. That includes a sketchy boyfriend (Pilou Asbæk) who bullies her into delivering a package to a businessman’s luxury high-rise.
Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi) is no businessman. He’s a gangster – and a rather bloodthirsty one, at that – who turns her into a mule for a new drug. But when his sadistic lackeys accidentally break open the pouch in her abdomen, her body is flooded with powerful blue crystals that unlock previously untapped quadrants of her brain.
As she is able to access increasingly high percentages of her brain’s capacity, she can control every aspect of her body’s function, then control other people’s bodies and finally all matter and energy around her, rapidly evolving into a super being.
Desperate to understand what’s happening to her, she tracks down Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), a respected researcher who is in Paris giving a lecture on his theories about the untapped potential of the human brain. Besson illustrates this lecture, along with Lucy’s kidnapping, with cutaways to cheetahs hunting gazelles, rhinos copulating and a cavewoman named Lucy creating fire, bursts of color that are irritating and distracting as often as they are amusing or revealing.
It quickly becomes apparent that Lucy is changing into something not human, and one of the movie’s most riveting scenes comes when she holds a surgeon at gunpoint and forces him to remove the busted bag of drugs from her tummy. No longer able to feel pain, she tearfully calls her mom to say that she loves her – and can remember petting the cat the family owned when Lucy was just a baby.
As she races to Paris to meet Professor Norman, Lucy is pursued by Mr. Jang and his thugs and crosses paths with an able and honest French cop (Amr Waked), who becomes her astonished sidekick.
Under all the candy-colored spectacle and double-digit body counts, Besson possesses a great gift for fully using his assets on any given project, and he employs Johansson’s expressiveness, Freeman’s gravitas, Choi’s menace, Thierry Arbogast’s eye-popping visuals and Eric Serra throbbing score to maximum effect. Although the ride can’t last, Besson deserves props for making it a fun one.