Enormous leaps in logic and all, “Lucy” is a silly but ultimately fun sci-fi B-movie that knows how absurd it is but plunges forward anyway. With Scarlett Johansson proving that she can be an action hero on her own and some nice moments with Morgan Freeman, here’s a movie that counters the sleep-inducing, special effects dominated action blockbusters that have plagued theaters all summer long. “Lucy” will doubtlessly repel some of those expecting a little more reality in their science-fiction, but director Luc Besson keeps the action coming at a brisk pace and delivers an exciting popcorn flick that is easy to embrace for action junkies.
Even though the basic premise of “Lucy” is based upon the idea of unlocking superior intelligence, this is a movie that you don’t want to mistake for a thinking-man’s sci-fi film, no matter how many references there are to Stanley Kubrick’s great “2001: A Space Odyssey.” While there are other movies that can delve deeply into the nature of mankind or our place in the cosmos, writer/director Besson – best known for sci-fi hits like “The Fifth Element” – is mainly interested in getting the ball rolling and letting his superhero take it from there.
In this case, the action revolves around – you guessed it – a woman named Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), who starts as a drug mule for the mob in Taiwan before her life changes fairly dramatically. When she’s given a special drug implant, it turns out that there can be fairly profound implications when it spills in the blood stream.
Instead of the mob creating a drug mule they can easily control, Lucy turns into somewhat of a superhuman who figures out how to use the 90% of her brain that is just sitting there biding its time. She’s also quite upset about being used, which isn’t a good formula for the rest of the mob and the other enemies in her way. In a flash, Lucy has been turned into Obi-Wan Kenobi on cattle steroids, a woman who can move people and objects with her mind as easily as breathing and is the type of person you probably just don’t want to get on the wrong side of.
Then there’s Professor Norman, a neurologist played by Morgan Freeman in an attempt to evoke as much intelligence as possible despite the paper-thin development of the character. In the tradition of complicated sci-fi movies, Norman is mainly there to explain to the audience what’s actually going on, which is helpful once Lucy starts picking up some momentum and learning more and more about her capabilities. Despite some silly speeches that real scientists would have to laugh or cringe at, Freeman escapes from the role and manages to lend some credibility to the entire plot, filling in the gaps before we can get back to Lucy terrorizing her enemies.
But this isn’t a movie that tries to reinvent the wheel either, and Besson turns Lucy into a Jason Bourne-type rogue agent out for revenge, which makes her an easy hero to root for as long as Johansson can pull it off. The good news is that she does with ease, delivering an effortless performance that makes her as interesting in quieter scenes as she is when is making bad guys fly into the ceiling.
Though she could have come off as machine-like, Johansson has an innate ability to avoid sounding mechanical, something she pulled off with her surprisingly inspired voice-over work in Spike Jonze’s excellent “Her.” Besson also comes through with some creative action sequences that carry the movie, including a chase through Paris that has a kinetic energy to it that might remind audiences of action movies of old. Compared with the laughably cartoonish action sequences in “Captain America” and “Transformers” this year, the action in “Lucy” somehow feels plausible no matter how silly and half-baked the plot ends up being.
At the end of the day, “Lucy” is far from an action classic, and it might even lose those who can’t stomach blatant lapses in logic. Yet beneath the absurdity, “Lucy” is also an exciting bit of action filmmaking that pays homage to the traditions that made the genre what it is and reminds audiences that it’s creativity and good writing that make an action movie, not the worship of special effects. And at just under an hour and half, here’s a popcorn flick that understands what it is and knows enough to not outstay its welcome.