News Column

The Virginian-Pilot Mal Vincent column

July 26, 2014

By Mal Vincent, The Virginian-Pilot



July 27--No one really loves Lucy, as portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, but everyone wants her.

That possessive horde includes drug smugglers, scientists and, particularly, traffic cops.

"Lucy," a science-fiction "What if?'' yarn from French director Luc Besson, is a mix of "Carrie," "The French Connection," "2001: A Space Odyssey," National Geographic nature shots and a colored-light show. Johansson is perhaps an unlikely candidate to play the first human who has successfully learned to use 100 percent of her brain, but the actress has her fans -- both as mere decoration and at art theaters through films like "Under the Skin."

"Lucy" is pretty silly, but it trots out varied philosophical and metaphysical themes. This is the kind of thing that often spawns mini-cults in rentals.

Lucy, a la Carrie, can move inanimate objects with her mind, she is involved in the most hectic car chase in recent films and she flirts with man's origins back to apes and primates of old. According to the script, humans traditionally use only 10 percent of their brain power. When searching for sense in summer movies, we'd settle, out of desperation, for 10 percent.

While "Lucy" may be audacious, it smacks of the kind of tough female heroine that director Besson so often prefers, as in his 1990 film "La Femme Nikita."

The opening looks like just another drug-crime caper. Lucy is a partying blonde who becomes a lowly drug mule for the mob, smuggling drugs via a pouch sewn into her stomach. When a particularly powerful dose leaks into her body, she begins to experience "special" powers. She can suddenly speak many languages and memorize tons of trivia. Her knowledge becomes more practical when it comes to fighting off the pursuing plug-ugly drug cartel.

She adjusts to her newfound powers with a good deal of soul-searching, although the part requires little more than deadpan delivery that comes across as repetitive bemusement.

Morgan Freeman makes yet another token appearance as a wise onlooker. This time he's a Parisian scientist who throws in a discussion about how humans are more concerned with "having" than with "being." (So true, Mr. Freeman, but we would hardly question you on anything since you continue to reign, on film, as the father of us all.)

Lucy is both blessed and cursed in that she's headed toward total brain power as the movie clocks her progress from using 10 percent of the brain to the dreaded 100 percent mark, which we are told will be fatal. It gets more noisy than philosophical, but we are warned that too much knowledge can be fatal.

Besson, a specialist in action films, is likely to get his best box office tally since 1997's "The Fifth Element," although his Liam Neeson vehicle, "Taken," was a surprise hit. This one is a return to his preoccupation with tough female leads.

Lucy's transformation from drug peddler to superpowerful person is mostly colored lights. Admittedly, it takes more brainpower to watch "Lucy" than it does for, say, "Transformers," but that's not saying much. At 90 minutes, "Lucy" knows how not to overstay its welcome and put a bit of a twist on the usual summer noise.

Mal Vincent, 757-446-2347, mal.vincent@pilotonline.com

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"Lucy"

Cast Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked

Director and writer Luc Besson

Music Eric Serra

MPAA rating R (violence, drug references)

Mal's rating Two and a half stars

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(c)2014 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com

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