Movie Review: Johansson kicks butt brainily in ‘Lucy’

Intelligence in action: Scarlett Johansson in
Intelligence in action: Scarlett Johansson in "Lucy."

Lucy
★★★ 1/2

It may not make a lot of sense, ultimately, but at least “Lucy” throws around some intriguing ideas while going about the business of blowing our minds with off-the-charts sci-fi/action spectacularness.

It also gets double bonus points for placing a woman at the center of action. That’s not a major surprise from writer/director Luc Besson, who did something similar in “La Femme Nikita,” “The Professional” and “The Fifth Element,” but he takes it a step further here by more or less removing male sidekick/protectors from the equation. Bruce Willis? Who needs him?

Scarlett Johansson kicks butt and gets god-like as Lucy, an American student in Taipei who makes the unfortunate acquaintance of a gang of Chinese drug dealers. After being forced to deliver a briefcase full of CPH4 to the impressively vicious Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi, star of the original “Oldboy”) Lucy is informed, after being knocked unconscious, that a large packet of the stuff has been sewn into her abdomen and that she’s expected to deliver it to another country.

The CPH4 ruptures en route, though (after a helpful kick to the stomach from an amorous thug) and has an immediate, profound effect on Lucy — suspending the law of gravity as she floats in chains in her rotating cell á la Fred Astaire dancing on the walls and ceiling of his hotel room in “Royal Wedding.”

We might be a bit perplexed if Morgan Freeman wasn’t on hand as Professor Norman, a brain researcher lecturing in Paris about what mankind might potentially be able to do if it could ever harness more than 10 percent of it’s brain power. (Never mind the fact that all of us routinely do that.)

At 20 percent we’d have full control of our bodies, he explains and at 30 we’d be able to control everything around us by manipulating matter. And simultaneously turn into badass, revenge-driven assassins, apparently, since that’s the first thing on upgraded Lucy’s agenda.

Lucy keeps on getting smarter throughout, adding increasingly mind-boggling abilities as she works her way toward 100 percent and oneness with the universe. Meanwhile, she travels to Paris to meet Prof. Norman and find a way to download her always-expanding knowledge for mankind, while eluding Mr. Jang and his army and thugs, and knowing she has only 24 hours to live thanks to the way CPH4 has sped up her metabolism.

Few directors do action as well as Besson when he’s on his game and he delivers admirably for the first third of “Lucy,” while her mind is still oriented toward such primitive things as firearms, and when he breaks out an unexpected, high-speed journey through oncoming car traffic in Paris.

Pretty soon, though, Lucy’s powers develop to the point where she can change the nature of reality around her and knock out a room full of men with a wave of her hand, which pretty much undercuts the film’s adrenaline quotient. After all, no one Lucy meets represents much of a threat anymore.

At that stage, Besson shifts to far-out philosophizing mode, expounding on the nature of mankind, his place in space and time, and the notion that a new phase of evolution has arrived, all illustrated with dazzling, reality-twisting special effects, managing to sidestep any hint of pomposity.

“Lucy” has a healthy amount of humor that shows itself during the film’s trippiest moments, like Lucy’s time-traveling face-to-face encounter with a group of American Indians in the old west, who don’t quite know what to make of the pretty lady regarding them coolly from her seat in a rolling office chair.

It’s fun to imagine how they’ll explain that little encounter when they get home.

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