Movie Review: In sci-fi thriller 'Lucy,' Scarlett Johansson battles through weird mind games

“Mind over matter” isn’‍t just an empty phrase for Lucy.

When “Lucy” opens, the title character played by Scarlett Johansson is an American studying in Taiwan and dating a man she has known for all of a week. When he forces her to deliver a locked briefcase to a stranger at a hotel, her life takes a macabre, mind-blowing turn. 

The case holds four plastic pouches of blue crystals, a wildly powerful synthetic drug that crime lord Mr. Jang (Choi Min Sik from the original “Oldboy”) intends to smuggle into Europe by turning kidnap victims into drug mules. Instead of being forced to swallow pellets of heroin, as in 2004’‍s “Maria Full of Grace,” Lucy and the others are knocked out and have their abdomens sliced open so drugs can be hidden inside.

'Lucy' movie trailer

A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

But when Lucy is chained, kicked and beaten, the packet leaks and spills some of the contents into her bloodstream. Her cerebral capacity explodes from the usual 10 percent (that’‍s how much brain capacity the average person uses, according to this movie) to 20 and then 30 and 40 and beyond, a place where no human has ever gone.

She can locate and read, online, 6,734 pages of sophisticated research in minutes, type furiously on two laptops at once, and control objects or people with her mind. This sends her back into harm’‍s way and in search of some answers and help from a world-famous expert (Morgan Freeman) in the study of the brain’‍s potential.

Turning into the smartest person on the planet can be a blessing, curse and surprise in this fast-paced, stylish sci-fi picture from writer-director Luc Besson. Early on, Lucy describes what she can feel, which is everything — space, air, vibrations, people, gravity, Earth’‍s rotation and her brain, accessing the deepest, oldest crevices of her memory. 


Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min Sik.

Rating: R for strong violence, disturbing images and sexuality.

It’‍s a poignant moment in an action-driven thriller with one of Mr. Besson’s touchstones — a female assassin (she’‍s avenging the death of her old life, for starters) who ultimately dresses like a runway model, complete with high heels. Although, to be fair, she becomes impervious to pain, a handy quality when choosing women’‍s footwear.

When Natalie Portman won her Oscar for “Black Swan,” she thanked the French director, “who gave me my first job when I was 11 years old” in “Leon: The Professional,” the movie he made after “La Femme Nikita” and before “The Fifth Element.” All had strong female characters. 

Here, he gives Ms. Johansson, Black Widow in “The Avengers,” the sort of role typically assigned to men and alternates Mr. Freeman’‍s calm, professorial lectures with predator-prey pursuits, shootouts, car chases and, ultimately, the history of life itself. Some is standard-issue, violent action material, but some is novel because even the experts  don’‍t know what would happen if  the reported 86 billions of neurons in the brain fired at once.

It grows more and more fantastical and far-fetched but, to its credit, doesn’‍t treat the summer audience as dumb and dumber.

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published July 24, 2014 8:00 PM

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