Jul 25, 2014

Johansson has another sci-fi winner this summer.


Grade: B+

Director: Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita)

Screenplay: Besson

Cast: Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin), Morgan Freeman (Transcendence)

Rating: R

Runtime: 90 min.

by John DeSando

That's your best friend and your worst enemy - your own brain.” Fred Durst

Lucy is a summer surprise—a sci-fi with brains and humor directed by Luc Besson, whose talents I first spied  in the strong woman flick, la Femme Nikita. The titular heroine, played by Scarlett Johansson (carrying on from her other intriguing sci-fi this year, Under the Skin), begins as a hapless woman caught in a drug deal, whose drug she is forced to carry as a mule. Spillage gives her brain powers undreamed of.

This drug increases her brain function incrementally until she finally uses all of it.  At stages higher than the usual human 10% or so usage, she has insights and telekinetic abilities that neutralize tough guys and engage intellectuals, mainly Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), who has been theorizing about the brain’s potential for years. The reality of the increased brain usage in Lucy is almost more than he or the world can bear. The super power action could remind audiences of The Matrix’s arcane philosophy and action.

Besson deftly plays between violence and humor, the opening sequence the most hilarious when the bad guys corral Lucy, who begins to feel her power and uses it on the Asian thugs, who scarcely can believe this white woman tornado. Intercutting between Lucy’s slowly realizing her accelerating brain functions and Professor Norman’s lectures on the brain’s underused capacity, Besson keeps the film moving at thriller pace while educating the audience on the potential of underused intelligence.

As usually happens in most thrillers, but not always sci-fi’s, chases are too abundant, either in cars or on foot.  The car chase where Lucy drives through Paris is unusually creative, more keystone Cops than James Bond, but ingenious enough for me to mention action I usually ignore in reviews.

In the end, it’s not the guns or the beautiful Johansson that interests me; it’s the philosophical contrast between our need to love and our thirst for more knowledge and experience.  After all, that knowledge compromised Adam and Eve, and by extension all of us, and Lucy’s increasing wisdom would seem to put us in a similar danger.

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” as the saying goes, but what about too much?

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at