Movie News & Reviews

July 23, 2014

Scarlett Johansson deftly handles 'Lucy' and her sci-fi brain gain

In 1968, director Stanley Kubrick created the mind-twisting "2001: A Space Odyssey," a journey from prehistoric mankind to modern space exploration.

"Lucy" takes a similar journey. It's not nearly as obtuse but again shows the links between the beginning and ending of time. And, just as "2001" launched a cosmos of debates about the meaning of life, "Lucy" will have its supporters and detractors because it embraces the theories of evolution.

The massive task of bringing the central character to life falls to Scarlett Johansson. Few actresses have the skills to pull off such a complicated character, who goes from a slightly addled girlfriend of a street punk to being a demigod who possesses all the knowledge in the universe.

Lucy's transformation is the product of a drug-smuggling exploit gone bad. A bag of drugs containing a synthesized version of a chemical mothers release during pregnancy begins to leak in Lucy's abdomen. This rush of chemicals sets off a reaction that has her synapsis firing at a record pace. Within 24 hours, she goes from using 15% of her brain (the norm) to 100%. Each percentage gives her more and more unique powers.

Director Luc Besson seamlessly takes a standard action film and ramps it up with the deeper meanings of Lucy's transformation. The action parts are the weakest part, with Besson ignoring large bits of logic — like an entire army of cops failing to see a massive group of killers loading up bags of weapons outside a hospital — to keep the film moving ahead. There's also an immediate acceptance by cops and professors that seems expedited just to keep the pace high.

But when the focus comes back to Lucy, Johansson turns in a performance of remarkable range. The early Lucy is a little scattered and completely terrified by her close encounter with the drug dealers. Johansson is equally convincing as the mind-altered Lucy, who is both fascinated and confused by her transformation.

There are a couple of misfires in her performance, but overall it is Johansson who sells this movie. That is vital because "Lucy" treads on hot-button topics that would have not played as seriously with a lesser performance.

With a major assist from Johansson, Besson delivers plenty of action in a smart package.

Movie review

"Lucy," rated R for violence, sexual content, drug use. Stars Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman. Directed by Luc Besson. Running time: 99 minutes. Grade: B

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