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Reeling it in: 'Lucy' won't make you think too hard

Posted: August 13, 2014 - 3:29pm
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Scarlett Johansson in a scene from "Lucy." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)  AP
AP
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Scarlett Johansson in a scene from "Lucy." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

“Lucy”

Universal Pictures

1 hour, 29 minutes

“We only use 10 percent of our brains.” That’s one of those strange little science tidbits that you pick up somewhere, repeat a few times without every really putting any thought into it, and then file away as fact. I know I’ve spouted that line and never bothered to see if it was actually true.

It’s not, by the way. I spent about two minutes looking it up just now, and lo and behold, we apparently use nearly all parts of our brain at one time or another. I can be forgiven, however, because I’m just a guy who likes to spout science trivia. I didn’t spend $40 million making an action movie about it. French auteur Luc Besson has made some good movies, but “Lucy,” unfortunately, isn’t one of them.

False premise aside, I think “Lucy” had the potential to be good. A similarly premised movie, though a dramatic thriller rather than an actioner, 2011’s “Limitless” was pretty good. It benefitted from good writing, however, a characteristic “Lucy” doesn’t share.

At the start of the film, the titular Lucy, played well for about ten minutes by Scarlett Johansson, is arguing with her boyfriend about the delivery of a mysterious briefcase to an equally mysterious Southeast Asian kingpin. Forced into making the drop, a terrified Lucy is thrust into a nightmare where she is kidnapped, drugged, beaten, and winds up as an unwilling mule, supposed to carry the drugs that have been surgically implanted in her lower stomach across the border into the United States.

These aren’t just any drugs, however. A powerful new synthetic compound has been created and, after a brutal beating, said compound begins to leak into poor Lucy’s body. The effect of such a large, sudden dose is to awaken the dormant parts of her mind, rocketing her from 10 percent to 20 percent to 50 percent and on up.

We as a species must have a lot of hidden potential, because in very short order Lucy is able to control the minds of others, manipulate physical objects with her mind, see different frequencies of light and cellular signals, even control time. For lack of a better word, this drug essentially turns her into a god. Naturally, she takes her frustrations out on the drug dealers in a big way.

For an action movie, “Lucy” is definitely strange. Besson was probably not expecting the massive success the film has seen, because it is structured like a trippy indie film, complete with random stock footage of nature documentaries and a bizarre interaction with one of the first humanoid creatures, Lucy, from the 3 million-year-old skeleton found in Ethiopia in 1974.

But it’s not the strangeness or the premise that kills this film. “Lucy,” like so many of its ilk, is killed by the script, plain and simple. The writing is atrocious. The dialogue is completely leaden, filled with needlessly expository speeches and cheesy lines. At one point Johansson is forced to say, “I feel the wind on my skin. I feel the rotation of the earth. I feel my brain.”

Granted, our star had very little to work with, but I should take issue with Johansson’s performance as well. As soon as the drug enters her system, she turns into an automaton, staring blankly, repeating her lines deadpan and showing almost no emotion whatsoever. I’m certain this was a directorial directive, but it makes her seem blank instead of smart, and her performance literally sucked all the energy out of her scenes.

Also bad was poor Morgan Freeman who, possibly in an attempt to make Lucy look smarter, seemed to be playing slow and a little dim. It only stands to reason, then, that he’s a brilliant neuroscientist who knows more about the brain than anyone, other than Lucy.

I tried hard, but I never could buy into “Lucy.” The movie moves at a manic pace with bizarre punctuations throughout. The terrible dialogue and odd performances kept pulling me out of the story, and the premise seemed barely considered. “Lucy” reminded me of another Besson property, “The Transporter,” a movie with a potentially good cast that is simply awful in the translation, because the filmmakers gave no thought to the premise other than “a tough guy who can drive fast.” Here the idea is simply “girl gets superpowers.”

It turns out we do use a lot more than 10 percent of our brain, but this film doesn’t even require that much.

Grade: C-

“Lucy” is rated R for sexual situations, graphic violence, and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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