What’s with Scarlett Johansson playing all these women who are not quite of our reality?
In Her, she was like a Super Siri, the hyper-intelligent voice of the next generation of computing. In Under the Skin, she was an extraterrestrial on the prowl for men. And, of course, she’s the bringer of beatdowns as the Black Widow in The Avengers.
Now, she’s the first human to tap into 100 percent of her brain power in Lucy. From French director Luc Besson, this goofily enjoyable but ultimately forgettable techno-thriller plays like a cross between Transcendence and La Femme Nikita with a little bit of Hong Kong-style action and low-rent 2001-era Stanley Kubrick thrown in for good measure.
Johansson is Lucy, an American living the party life in Taiwan, though it’s never explained what brought her there. Richard (Pilou Asbaek), a casual boyfriend she has known for only a few days, is trying to convince her to do his job: deliver a briefcase to the mysterious Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi) at a luxury hotel. He’ll even give her half the $1,000 payment he’s getting from Jang.
After Richard forces her to take the case, she realizes she’s in deep trouble. It turns out that what’s inside is a powerful new party drug that Jang’s sharply dressed and cutthroat crew of gangsters wants to market across Europe. To get it all there safely, they’ve surgically inserted packets of the stuff into drugged and kidnapped tourists.
But Lucy’s bag ruptures after being kicked by one of Jang’s minions, sending a flood of the drug into her system. Instead of killing her, it turns her into the smartest person on the planet — and the best fighter, of course.
As it just so happens, Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) is a world-renowned scientist working in Paris on the powers of the brain. Lucy, who feels that her rapidly escalating intelligence means she won’t be of this physical realm much longer, wants to get to him and download what she knows to help mankind. Meanwhile, Jang and his gang have far less lofty goals. They just want their drugs back.
It all leads to a well-staged auto chase through the streets of Paris and an impressive sequence where Lucy observes the history of Manhattan and mankind in reverse. (You don’t need a Ph.D. in anthropology to make the connection between our Lucy and the hominid called Lucy, humankind’s ultimate ancestor. And the movie makes that point about a hundred times.)
Besson keeps things light and breezy (the movie clocks in at just under 90 minutes) and Johansson is relatable even in the midst of utter nonsense. The scene where she calls her mom from a Taiwanese hospital may be better than this movie deserves.
It reminds audiences that, while Johansson may have a knack for taking on the otherworldly, she’s still at her best when she’s at her most human.
* * *
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman
Rated: R (strong violence, disturbing images, sexuality)
Running time: 89 min.