Starring: Scarlett Johanson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked
Written and Directed by: Luc Besson
Rated: R for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality
Suspension of disbelief, the willingness to overlook things that aren’t real or possible, is a vital part of enjoying almost any fictional movie. Superheroes, action stars, mad scientists, they all do things we know aren’t possible in the real world. Some movies require you to suspend your disbelief a little harder – to accept the idea that two guys in their early thirties can pass as high school students, for example.
Then there are films like “Lucy,” the latest from Luc Besson (whose work as a writer, director, and producer includes some of the best action films of the last three decades). These films require you to suspend your disbelief hard enough to ignore actual, existing scientific facts being not just ignored, but actively turned on their heads.
The basic premise of “Lucy” is that the average person uses only 10% of their brain, and that finding a way to unlock the unused parts will give you superpowers. The problem is, this is based on a popular misunderstanding of the science. We use 100%, it’s just that we only knew what 10% of it does. This would be easier to overlook if it weren’t repeated constantly during the film. As the title character gains access to more and more of her brain after overdosing on a new synthetic drug, we get huge title cards where her current brain use percentage is displayed in enormous white block numbers on a black background.
Somehow it’s a lot easier to suspend disbelief around a person getting weird superpowers from a drug overdose than it is to suspend disbelief about how the human brain works on a fundamental, basic level. Even having Morgan Freeman play the doctor who explains this faulty premise doesn’t make it any easier to believe, especially when he tells us things like dolphins use 20% of their brains and therefore evolved sonar on purpose.
If you can set all that aside, however, there is a lot to like about “Lucy.” Scarlett Johansson is a thoroughly talented actress who handles superhero roles with the same deftness as the wide range of characters she’s played in various art films. She makes our protagonist someone richly flawed and very human at the beginning of the film, and gradually peels away everything that makes up her character. Lucy goes from blind terror to a complete lack of fear, from unable to draw firm boundaries to destroying anything in her path. By the end of the film, she’s more like a force of nature or alien lifeform than the hapless young woman we meet in the beginning.
The powers Lucy develops as the film progresses become increasingly ludicrous, but it’s definitely a lot of fun to see a smallish young woman walk through a crowd of heavily armed gangsters, tossing them aside the way you might toss a pencil up to stick in a classroom ceiling. Her allies, the professor played by Morgan Freeman and a French police officer played by Amr Waked, don’t really know what to make of her, even after she sits down and calmly explains pretty much everything.
The special effects are simple but very effective, and there’s something very compelling about a totally unruffled young woman cutting a wide swath through the criminal underbelly of Europe and Asia.
If you can’t enjoy films like “The Matrix” or “Looper” because of their flawed underlying premises, do not see “Lucy.” If, on the other hand, you are perfectly able to enjoy utterly ridiculous films if there’s enough fun and exciting stuff to watch, this is a good way to spend 93 minutes in an air-conditioned movie theater.