‘Lucy’ movie review: Scarlett Johansson unlocks her mind in Luc Besson thriller

As silly as Lucy gets, I gotta give credit where credit is due: this thing flies by in a razzling, dazzling whirlwind, barely giving you time enough to think about what you’re actually seeing. Now, if you do ponder some of the ideas writer-director Luc Besson is throwing out here, you’re likely to laugh this thing off the screen; but if you ride with it, this oddball mixture of Limitless and The Tree of Life is a B-movie blast.

No time for backstory: Lucy throws you right into the midst of the action in the opening scene, as the titular American party girl (Scarlett Johansson), living in Taiwan, is being coerced by Richard (Pilou Asbæk), a guy she just met, to deliver a mysterious briefcase to a “Mr. Jiang”.

Yeah, right. But before she can get away, this jerk handcuffs the briefcase to her wrist, forcing her to make the delivery. Five minutes into the movie, and we’re in the middle of an intense cat-and-mouse scene between Lucy and the mysterious Mr. Jiang, played by Min-sik Choi, who you’ll recognize from Old Boy and Lady Vengeance

Soon Lucy has a bag of drugs surgically planted in her stomach, and when that bag ruptures – oh boy. But instead of killing her, the overdose expands the power of her mind, slowly increasing the amount of brainpower she’s able to harness, resulting (of course) in Matrix-like bullet stopping superpowers. Meanwhile, I’m imagining what will happen to the junkie who overdoses on this stuff via more traditional means. 

Director Besson has had a knack for this kind of thing ever since the La Femme Nikita, and Lucy gets going right from the outset and never lets up. Lightning-fast pacing and a keen (but never overbearing) sense of self-awareness some helps this film become one of the director’s best efforts since his 90s heyday of Leon and The Fifth Element

Much of the plot resembles Limitless, the Bradley Cooper-Robert De Niro thriller that involved a mysterious drug that lets you use more than the standard 10% of your brain. But where Cooper’s  character in that movie used the extra capability to make some quick cash through gambling, Lucy has more… esoteric interests in mind. 

That ten-percent myth is mostly bunko, by the way, but I can buy the premise that our brains aren’t doing what they might really be capable of. Psychoactive drugs are already altering how we perceive and interact with the world, and it’s not such a stretch to imagine something that goes further. Much, much further. 

So where does that leave Lucy? What will happen with all that extra brain power? I bet you weren’t expecting The Tree of Life in your Luc Besson action extravaganza, but that’s pretty much where he goes, complete with the big bang, creation of life, dinosaurs and all that jazz. The one real genre failing here is that Lucy is on some vague quest (for what, we don’t exactly know till the end), and may pose some vague threat to humanity. But we never really have a grasp on what’s at stake.  

I’m not exactly sure what the writer-director is trying to say with all this pseudo-intellectual mumbo jumbo, and I don’t think he was sure, either; Morgan Freeman attempts to explain some of the theory to us as a university professor in Paris, but even he can’t fully parse the ideas. Amr Waked as the French officer who Lucy co-opts to help her out. 

Lucy may not add up to much in the end, but it’s a wild, blissfully entertaining ride getting there. Bonus: an excellent soundtrack that includes some terrific original work by Eric Serra along with Raury’s memorable God’s Whisper.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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