Critic's Grade: B
Enjoying the gonzo action yarn Lucy hinges on your ability to accept the film’s central premise: That human beings are only able to use 10 percent of the brain’s capacity, and that unlocking the remaining power of the mind could mean unleashing tremendous power.
That, of course, is bullshit, a scientific myth often falsely attributed to Einstein that has been debunked time and time again. Making an action movie in which Scarlett Johansson becomes a super-powered killing machine by unlocking powers of her mind is the equivalent to making a film in which she breaks the backs of her foes’ mothers by stepping on cracks in the sidewalk.
But even if the team behind Lucy failed elementary-school science, they sure know how to blow shit up and make ScarJo look hot while bounding through combat, all the while tossing in enough distracting imagery to help you forget that the movie is soaked in stupid.
Actually, French writer-director Luc Besson is a hell of a lot smarter than he lets on. This is a man who sidelined a successful career as an action auteur to pen and produce films like Taken, another European franchise that plays to the gullibility of American audiences. But once upon a time, Besson was an action maestro heralded as the next John Woo, and with films like Leon (a.k.a. The Professional) and La Femme Nikita, he showed a love for strong, smart female action heroes. Lucy marks Besson’s return to that love. Well, kinda.
The title character in Lucy isn’t smart. Or strong. She’s a naive college kid in Taiwan more concerned with partying than studying. One bleary-eyed morning, she’s duped into delivering a briefcase to a shady drug lord (Oldboy’s great Choi Min-sik), who promptly knocks her out, puts a sack of experimental drugs in her stomach and sends her off for delivery.
After enduring a savage beating, the package breaks, and Lucy finds her brainpower exponentially growing, for convoluted reasons the movie doesn’t feel compelled to explain. How do we know her mind is expanding? Well, each time Lucy evolves, a percentage flashes across the screen (she starts at 7 percent, poor thing), accompanied by footage of Morgan Freeman’s Professor Norman lecturing students on what would happen if human brain function evolved. And so, when Freeman explains that at 20 percent, somebody could control their whole body, Lucy begins changing her hair at will and climbing walls. When he says that at 40 percent, you could control other matter, you bet your ass Lucy’s gonna send bodies flying by blinking.
And so we have Lucy, a movie about a globetrotting scientist with a hunger for revenge and more of that crystal blue drug that made her smart (what up, Heisenberg!). A film in which the central character unlocks the limitless power of the universe, and uses it to dual-wield silenced pistols, or engage in car chases throughout Paris. It’s an unholy marriage of The Killer, Flowers for Algernon, The Matrix, an episode of Cosmos written by Tommy Chong, X-Men, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Slaughterhouse-Five, Tree of Life, the good bits of Transcendence, and a 15-year-old’s post-Avengers masturbation fantasies. And, well, that’s kind of awesome. And a little dumb. Or a lot dumb. But who cares?
Yet Besson, smart dude that he is, seems to know everything in Lucy is nonsense. This is a movie of sadistically pure imagination, a goofball riot of violence, humor and unapologetic weirdness. It is, after all, a film that opens with the origins of life itself, and culminates with a 20-minute shootout intercut with a psychedelic voyage through time and space. It’s a picture that can include, in its brisk 90-minute runtime, amateur surgery, martial arts, a T-Rex, slow-motion rocket launcher fights, footage of lions mating, and the first two human ancestors…the female of which was named, yup, Lucy.
Is Lucy a good film? Hell no. It was seemingly edited by a hyperactive nutcase. It may have been inspired by someone who took an LSD trip while locked in the National Enquirer archive. It’s based, again, on a bullshit pseudoscientific theory. But just because it isn’t good doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining as hell. Enjoying Lucy requires 5 percent of the brain. And that’s just fine.