Scarlett Johansson holds it all together in Lucy
Starring Scarlett Johansson. Rated 14A.
French action master Luc Besson has a thing for waifish ingénues who get their little Nikitas on. Here, a slightly more mature Scarlett Johansson goes further, taking things into the Marvel-superhero realm while tackling metaphysical questions more akin to Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick than what you usually find floating around in Tarantinoland.
Literally evoking the name given by anthropologists to the earliest woman yet discovered (not Ricky Ricardo’s missus), her titular Lucy is an American student in Taipei when she meets a guy who tricks her into delivering a briefcase to a Korean gang lord (Oldboy star Choi Min-Sik). Big mistake. Or is it? He forces her to mule a strange new drug inside her body, and she ends up ingesting these ice-blue crystals. This ups her brain capacity well beyond that of ordinary folks. (Besson’s script buys that old myth about human beings only using 10 percent of their noggin power.)
Next thing you know, she’s plucking data out of electronic streams only she can see, making bad guys stick to the ceiling, and—well, you don’t even want to see how fast she finishes the New York Times crossword puzzle. She heads to Paris, enlists the help of a Bessonian police detective (Egypt’s Amr Waked), and tracks down a smooth scientist, in town to give handy exposition. He’s played by Morgan Freeman, doing his best Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The science here is preposterous, and so are the abrupt changes of genre, from Asian crime-grinder to Inception-like CGI fest to Tree of Life meditation, complete with dinosaurs and Mozart. Everything gets thrown into the stylistic blender, with the blades whirring on High the whole time, which makes the film’s (sometimes gory) 90 minutes fly by, even if the basic ideas don’t add up to much. Besson does very difficult things extremely well but blows off the relatively easy stuff—characterization and narrative through-line—as if it’s somehow not worthy of his time. (And, apparently, spectacularly evolved people are still into petty revenge.)
Continuing her riff on the literally disembodied characters she played in Her and Under the Skin, his star has the feisty magnetism to hold all these parts together.
If Greta Garbo was the Face of the 1920s, Johansson seems to be the inchoately Sexy Presence of whatever this decade is called.