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Review: Scarlett Johansson invigorates a tired concept in 'Lucy'

Lucy

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Luc Besson, Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman are hardly the first people to tackle the question of what would happen if a human was suddenly able to use more than 10% of their brain capacity, but they are the first to do it quite so stylishly and with the seemingly at odds blend of earnestness and levity that can often be found in the most fun sci-films around (though that particular territory is not foreign to writer-director Besson who tapped a similar sensibility in The Fifth Element). Lucy (in theaters July 25) follows the exploits of Scarlett Johansson as the titular Lucy, a young woman who is transformed from something of a party girl into a being with an intellect rapidly evolving beyond human logic and abilities sporting an axe to grind.

Writer/director Luc Besson directs SCARLETT JOHANSSON in "Lucy", an action-thriller that examines the possibility of what one human could truly do if she unlocked 100 percent of her brain capacity and accessed the furthest reaches of her mind.
Writer/director Luc Besson directs SCARLETT JOHANSSON in "Lucy", an action-thriller that examines the possibility of what one human could truly do if she unlocked 100 percent of her brain capacity and accessed the furthest reaches of her mind.
Courtesy of: Jessica Forde / © 2014 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

This transformation is triggered when Lucy, wary of completing an odd favor for a new boyfriend (delivering a briefcase to a shadowy figure), suddenly finds herself forced to carry out said favor and in the hands of some less than law-abiding citizens looking to use her body as a means to smuggle a new, highly illegal and potent drug into Europe. That is until she puts up a bit too much of a fight for one guard’s liking, leading him to violence, more specifically, a kick to the stomach where the baddies opened her up and inserted their drugs. Unfortunately for the brute in question, the impact of his kicks lets loose some of the drug into her bloodstream, triggering her ascent to greater brain capacity usage and the acquisition of ever more intimidating abilities.

The film clocks in at a lean 90 minutes, so needless to say, things escalate pretty rapidly, and that’s all to the better. If one were to suspend belief and say that Lucy’s ordeal could really happen it’s a pretty safe bet that things would get real way to fast for the subject’s liking, there wouldn’t be time for an origin story mastering-my-new-skills montage, not with a leaky bag of narcotics in one’s gut; so, why shouldn’t Lucy hit the ground running, reap some vengeance and ask questions after? As it follows the changes to Lucy––which are something of a riot to watch unfold thanks to Johansson’s performance--the film posits questions about time, the meaning of life, evolution and human nature, but for all the pondering and debate that it may inspire among some viewers when the lights go up, it never forgets how to have fun.

Johansson transforms Lucy gradually enough that her dissipating sense of humanity is palpable even as the plot barrels forward with the occasional explosion and an enjoyable measure of laughs. The film is also not lacking in moments worthy of the now ubiquitous query “What the f**k?” The premise itself may not be unique, but Besson’s take on what may happen as brain usage expands beyond 10% is quite original in many ways, and at times, downright unexpected (ScreenCrush tackles some of the madness in this article).

Certainly some viewers will decry Lucy as an over-the-top execution of a tired presence, but however lacking in inspiration the concept sounds, the end result is ceaselessly entertaining, and in this reviewer’s mind, the most successful take on this oft-explored pop culture what if.