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Runaway brain

Sci-fi action film so full of adrenalin, you might not notice the lack of intelligent design

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Universal pictures 
Scarlett Johansson as Lucy.

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Universal pictures Scarlett Johansson as Lucy.

As in the recent sci-fi offering Transcendence, note that Morgan Freeman is once again called upon to play the resonant voice of intelligence and decency in Lucy. He plays Prof. Norman, a scientist given to theorizing about the untapped potential of the human brain (this, from the studio that gave us Endless Love and 47 Ronin).

Given its familiar turn of plot and Freeman's soothing, expository presence, it could almost be a Transcendence sequel, except Lucy is much more fun than the sombre, plodding Johnny Depp bomb. Lucy is a pulse-pounder. Transcendence didn't have a pulse.

Lucy was written and directed by Luc Besson, a French filmmaker who has long displayed love for the action genre. Indeed, this film functions as a greatest-hits mash-up of other films he had directed and produced. A beautiful, gun-toting woman in a tight dress (La Femme Nikita), possessed of superhuman abilities (The Fifth Element) is chasing a shipment of drugs that will entail mob shoot-'em-ups (The Professional) and highly destructive car chases (The Transporter).

Throw into that mix 2001: A Space Odyssey (seriously) and you get some idea of where Besson is going here.

Scarlett Johansson is Lucy, an innocent American abroad in Taiwan, where a creepy new boyfriend leads her into a trap with a ruthless -- but nattily dressed -- gang of Asian drug smugglers. A bag of weird purple-blue crystals is sewn into her belly for transport to the U.S. But before she can get on a plane, she is attacked and accidentally ingests some of the stuff. The resulting effect that she is able to access incrementally larger parts of her untapped grey matter. Soon, she can move objects with her mind. She can see and read cellphone signals. Most importantly, she can shoot through doors and still hit her targets.

When she realizes she will need more of the drug to survive, she visits the crime lord (Min-sik Choi), who set her up to determine the whereabouts of the other stashes. (She is apparently not yet smart enough to kill him.)

She enlists French cop Pierre (Amr Waked) for dutiful assistance. The chase eventually leads to Paris, where all parties, including the nonplussed Prof. Norman, will bear witness to Lucy's quickie evolution.

Lucy comes off as the kind of science fiction created by someone who never actually read a book on science. Its opening scene -- a prehistoric visit to a human ancestor, the three-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis also known as Lucy -- as well as its somewhat enigmatic conclusion cheekily invoke Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, an intellectually bolder movie about an evolutionary leap.

Instead of cracking a book by Richard Dawkins or Stephen Jay Gould, Besson's intellectual energy went into making this movie calculatedly international, designed as a three-prong attack on Asian, European and American audiences, with Johansson at the calm centre, going from panicky tourist to ass-kicking demi-goddess with aplomb.

It's playful fun, and after Besson's appalling mob comedy The Family, it qualifies as a return to inventive form. It's just not as smart as it thinks it is.

If humans only use 10 per cent of their brain capacity, as Freeman repeatedly attests, Lucy only demands attention from 10 per cent of that.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2014 D1

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