There's a fine line sometimes between brainless entertainment and just plain dumb and often a film has a foot in each camp. Welcome to LUCY, the latest from writer-director Luc Besson, ironically a film about a woman whose brain is rapidly racing toward using 100 percent of its capacity, while asking the audience to perform self-lobotomies in order to skate through the junk science and lapses in reason and sense.
In what is clearly a deliberate double homage to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Besson not only begins his film with a re-creation of a day in the life of "Lucy," the name given to the oldest biped remains, but he has a sequence near the end of the film that would seem to be his version the trippy, colorful journey stargate through the unknown that leads to, in the case of Lucy (the lead character, played quite gamely by Scarlett Johansson), a complete link with the origins of life in the universe. She literally becomes God by means of science. That isn't ruining the end of the film because there's never any doubt in our minds that the film is going to take us there no matter how many trumped up, generic thugs get thrown in her path.
Lucy begins the film as an unwitting drug mule for a Taiwanese drug lord (Choi Min-sik, from Oldboy), who inserts a bag of highly experimental drugs into her abdomen. Before she even has a chance to sneak it out of Taiwan, she gets beat up and the drugs begin to leak into her system in such quantities that it begins to unlock parts of her brain that most humans never tap into in their lifetime. A big part of the film revolves around a lecture given by one Prof. Norman (Morgan Freeman), who effectively uses his soothing yet authoritative voice to narrate the film about what he believes will happen to a person if their brain capacity goes from the normal 10 percent (which isn't actually true, but who's counting?) to 20 or 30 percent.
Through Lucy, we see that his predictions are largely accurate and they involve that person's brain being able to move objects, read minds, tap into and control electrical impulses. Because the drug takes a toll on the human body as it loses its potency, Lucy must find the three other drug mules being used by the drug lord to remove their stomach contents and down the drugs in massive quantities to stay alive. Needless to say, between the drug cartel after her and the impromptu surgeries, things get a little bloody in Lucy.
There are two ways to judge this movie. One is as an intellectual exercise and/or learning experience. This is where you may get frustrated. I actually heard a woman say after my screening of LUCY, "I loved that movie; I actually felt like I learned something." If I need to explain why I fear for the human race just a little more after hearing that comment, you may be part of the problem. The film fails miserably as a think piece, but I'll give it points for stimulating the air around it in such a way that it might actually resemble intelligence at work. And that's not to say that Freeman isn't a whole lot of fun to listen to. What he says sounds reasonable and sensical, even if it's junk science of the highest order.
What LUCY is far better at is reminding us that director Besson (LEON THE PROFESSIONAL, LA FEMME NIKITA, THE FIFTH ELEMENT) knows how to wipe the floor with most other action directors working today. And Johansson is a willing and able action goddess, who plays a role that is almost like all of the X-Men wrapped into one person. But as her brain opens up, her emotional core begins to shut down, and she enlists a handsome French police officer (Amr Waked) to be her sidekick to "remind her" that she's still can get turned on or worked up by something as she essentially transforms into a walking computer.
In its brief, 90-minute running time, LUCY features the gamut of action possibilities, including foot chases, martial arts, car chases, blazing gun battles, and some other things that involve Lucy's newfound powers that defy description. They're all varying degrees of very cool.
So what happens when you combine these two usually lethal elements? You get the chemical compound for exceedingly entertaining and unfathomably frustrating. In the end, I think entertaining wins by a smidge, but I fully expect there will be those audience members who will positively loathe this movie, and I wouldn't dream of trying to convince them otherwise. This is one of Besson's boldest films in ages, and that also earns him points. He may not always hit the mark with this material, but I admire the effort to be unpredictable even if so much of the resulting work is bat-shit crazy. If you need that gentle push into the wacky and messages about the positive, mind-expanding powers of drugs that haven't been heard since Timothy Leary died, LUCY might be just what you're looking for.