by George Wolf
Nearly ten years ago, Wedding Crashers taught us the best response to “people use only ten percent of our brains” is…”I think we use only ten percent of our hearts.”
Still, writer/director Luc Besson bases his new film Lucy on that old urban legend, and what might happen if someone could suddenly flex four, five or even ten times more grey matter muscle.
A ridiculous premise doesn’t have to sink a film, and this one actually gets off to a solid start as Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) unwillingly becomes a drug mule for ruthless Korean kingpin Mr. Jang (the always fascinating Min-sik Choi).
Jang’s henchman surgically stash a bag of his new product into Lucy’s abdomen, but the pouch breaks when she suffers a beating. In just minutes, the drug settles into Lucy’s bloodstream and begins opening countless new cognitive horizons.
It doesn’t take long to realize how much better this film is because of Johansson. She provides the terror-filled vulnerability to make us care about her character early on, then projects the right amount of wonder and determination as Lucy seeks out a famed brain researcher (Morgan Freeman, straight from Transcendence) to assist in her transformation.
Besson gets busy from the outset, as quick cuts and frenetic action are interspersed with scenes of animals in the wild, reinforcing the changing roles we see between hunter and prey. While not exactly subtle, it is stylish, and downright abstract compared to what Besson brings to the film’s second act.
As his characters begin to lament how we’ve all become more concerned with “having than being,” Besson shamelessly parrots Malick’s Tree of Life and Kubrick’s 2001, apparently believing the film to be an equally eloquent statement on mankind’s past, purpose, and future.
It isn’t, but with about 50 percent less pretension, Lucy could have been a fun guilty pleasure.