Scarlett Johansson Enters The Matrix: Lucy, Reviewed

1. Lucy posits that if a person were able to somehow assess 100 percent of his or her brain capacity, he or she would be able to travel through time, from the Big Bang to the dinosaurs to the dawn of man to the end of the world, and gather all the wisdom from millennia and hand it over as a gift to humanity. This strikes me as perhaps an overrating of the brain's capacity: I have no doubt that crosswords would become a lot easier at full power, but you'd have a hard time convincing me we wouldn't mostly just use the extra horsepower to watch every episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians at once. Lucy is optimistic about the 100-percent thing, but more conventional about the brain at 50 percent, wherein the added hardware is put in the service of shooting a bunch of bad guys in the face. That seems more practical, and more fun.

2. The Lucy of the title is a student living in Taipei, played by Scarlett Johansson, who ends up dating the wrong guy, who forces her to deliver a package to a murderous drug lord (Oldboy's Min-sik Choi). The drug cartel in turn forces her, via her stomach lining, to transport a dangerous new drug, but when the packaging breaks, the drug leaks into her system and allows her brain to reach heretofore unexplored human levels of aptitude. One minute she's hungover and trying to ditch her loser boyfriend, the next she's taking out a whole squad of hitmen, x-raying her roommate's organs with a single touch, and infiltrating every computer system on earth. It's a helluva drug.

3. The plot mostly involves Lucy avoiding the drug lord and his minions while attempting to download all the universe's mysteries onto a USB drive for Morgan Freeman, who is some sort of expert on the brain. (Freeman's only job anymore is to gravely intone ridiculous exposition.) The movie is sold as Johansson kicking butt and wiping guys out, but it's only briefly that; the movie could use more fight scenes, actually, as Johansson has a way of standing oddly outside her action sequences, like Neo when he almost absent-mindedly beats up henchmen while barely paying attention. Mostly, she just discovers her powers and tries to harness them before her the drugs destroy her.

4. The movie flies by so quickly—it's barely 90 minutes long—that it never gives you any time to stop and think about how ludicrous it all is. This is a feature, not a bug. Lucy is all about the rush, and even though director Luc Besson isn't the most hellzapoppin breakneck batshit director anymore—in his mid-fifties now, the La Femme Nikita savant is sorta old-fashioned at this point—he still has a gas flinging from one bit of silliness to another. There are nods at deeper themes of time and eternity, but they're just nods, the way you nod to someone as they sprint past you in the opposite direction. (At points, the film feels like The Tree of Life made by an idiot on amphetamines.) It never explores the philosophical ramifications of its premise, and man, why would it? Would you really expect it to? Would that somehow make anyone like it more? Just floor it: We'll figure out where we are later.

5. Holding all this together is Johansson, who has the exact right take on the material: slightly invested, mostly removed, observing it all with a sly grin. In many ways, her Lucy is a spiritual sister to her alien character in (the far superior) Under the Skin, a dispassionate witness to human frailty, above it all, hyper-intelligent, almost bemused by it all. (Given her character's ability to reach higher planes of understanding, there are similarities to her voice-work in Her, as well.) She continues to surprise—she's the rare actress who uses her obvious sex appeal in service of a cutting intelligence, almost a gateway drug into something more probing and seductive. I'm not sure she's given a great performance yet, but she's never given a boring one. Lucy isn't nearly as smart as it pretends to be, but it doesn't need to be. It has a movie star at its center who can more than take care of that on her own.

Grade: B.

Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch. Image by Sam Woolley.

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