Johansson, Freeman operate at full capacity in ‘Lucy’

August 3, 2014
Scarlett Johansson stars in "Lucy."

I suppose it’s fitting that “Lucy” is predicated on the long-debunked myth that humans use only 10 percent of their brain, for it is a film that pretends to be about more than it is. It delves about as deep into science as a Buzzfeed article (OMG! 22 Reasons Why the Brain is Totally Insane!!), yet there is still an admirable quality within that keep things fun, frothy and full of energy.

Director Luc Besson seems recharged to be working back in his (fifth) element: that is, a hard-action thriller with a strong-willed female lead (“Leon: The Professional,” “La Femme Nikita”). It begins with some Snopes-shunned scientific assumptions (introduced by Morgan Freeman, apparently to add legitimacy), and we are immediately introduced to our titular heroine (played by Scarlett Johansson). Lucy is vacationing in Thailand and duped into a mysterious transaction with a powerful crime boss (played by Choi Min-sik).

He quickly enlists her services as an intercontinental drug mule, as he is in possession of a powerful new synthetic high that can also crank up brain capacity to “Matrix”-like levels of mind expansion. This Mensa-meth is stored in a plastic baggie in the carrier’s abdomen, and when it escapes its package and enters Lucy’s bloodstream, she begins to unlock previously untapped portions of her mind and abilities.

This setup is ripe and ready to be another riff on “The Matrix,” and while there are many similarities, the film veers off down a different rabbit hole. Instead, Besson goes inward, focusing on Freeman’s professor and his quest for elevated knowledge at the same time as Lucy evades an ever-growing number of crime lords and cops who want answers out of her.

The film unfortunately paints itself into a corner with this conceit, though. For as Lucy acquires boundless knowledge (the film is broken up by title cards of how much “brain capacity” she is functioning on), it becomes increasingly difficult to feel she is under any threat from gun-toting thugs. Besson also sprinkles the first scenes with nature shots of predators and prey (oh, so subtle!), but those are kicked to the curb by the end of the film.

With all that said, it still somehow works. Regardless of the level at which Lucy’s mind is performing, Johansson and Freeman are operating at full capacity, both committed to Luc’s lunacy. And the film’s conclusion focuses on the potential of exploring and expanding one’s mind, which is a refreshing change from the typical summer blockbusters that ask us to check our brains at the door before entering.

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