Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman and Choi Min-sik
Running time: 90 minutes
Rated: R for strong violence, disturbing images and sexuality
Bottomline: Silly fun only worth a rental
You’re going to hear strange popping sounds Friday afternoon around the time “Lucy” has its first showing. They will be the sounds of scientists’ heads exploding all around the world.
These movies are notorious for pushing junk science on naive viewers. And it’s possible junk movie science has never been junkier than in Luc Besson’s “Lucy.”
Scarlett Johansson plays the title character, who gains the ability to use more of her brain than the 10 percent most humans use. She utilizes more and more of her brain as the movie progresses and acquires new, scientifically nonsensical powers as she evolves.
I use the word “evolve” because it is a theme of the film. Much of the first act cuts between Lucy becoming entangled in a drug-smuggling ring under the control of Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik) and Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) lecturing on what would happen if humans evolved in the ways Lucy does even as he speaks.
Sci-fi movies by nature exaggerate and fictionalize scientific reality or theory. One of the measures of quality for the genre is whether the movie follows its own rules. The story has to be plausible within the theory on which the movie is based. “Lucy” fails spectacularly on this level. There is no logical connection between brain power and the physical powers she acquires, which become increasingly supernatural.
It’s the kind of movie that’s only entertaining if you turn off your brain. And surely you see the irony.
Not that writer/director Luc Besson has ever cared about plausibility. He is much more interested in ideas, especially the ideas of transformation and transcendence.
He is also fascinated with taking wispy, Bohemian girls and turning them into impeccable killers. We’ve seen him create woman warriors in “La Femme Nikita,” “Leon,” “The Fifth Element,” “The Messenger,” and “Angel-A.”
In “Lucy,” empowerment comes with machine-like precision and a large gun in Besson’s world.
None of Besson’s heroines have been as empowered as Lucy, though. As the trailers have already revealed, she develops the ability to control other people’s bodies and minds and manipulate time and matter.
The concept is good for creating stunning visuals, and this movie uses more computer-generated imagery than any of Besson’s previous work. But the concept is terrible for action scenes. Lucy clashes with dozens of henchmen but just as each fight begins, her powers expand and she dispatches her opponents with ease. There isn’t one engaging action scene in the whole movie.
The movie is too busy trying to be too many things at once to focus on what most viewers will want, which is seeing Johansson in action.
For a few minutes during the opening sequence, “Lucy” recalls the documentary “Koyaanisqatsi” (1982) and its critique of modern life. The premise is embarrassingly similar to “Limitless” (2011). It’s also a quasi-philosophical movie that has as much in common with Terence Malick’s “Tree of Life” (2011) as anything else.
Besson has great fun with the evolution theme by intercutting wildlife documentary footage into his fictional footage, creating witty metaphors and puns. Unfortunately, this technique is also borrowed, from Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch” (2000).
I was rooting hard for this film prior to seeing it because it bucks so many current trends. It’s based on an original screenplay rather than a popular novel or comic book. It’s a taut 90 minutes rather than the standard 130- to 150-minute slog. And it’s in 2D.
But the movie becomes so unintentionally hilarious it’s only enjoyable because it has become “so bad it’s good.”
Lucy eventually gains the power to travel through her biological memory to the very first cell that split into two and initiated all evolution to follow.
If you plan to see “Lucy,” my advice is to similarly reduce your brain activity to that of a single cell before the movie begins.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.