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Director Luc Besson shoots for a message movie but only achieves 40% of what such a movie could do.

Science Friction

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson)
Lucy (Scarlett Johansson)

There’s a theory out there that says humans use only 10% of the brain’s capacity. The science behind it is murky, but walking down any given street, generally speaking, provides enough random human interactions to seemingly provide substantial empirical evidence proving the point. And that theory provides the foundation for Besson’s latest.

Besson, whose earlier films such as The Professional, La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element are still his best, slices and dices this brisk, 90-minute celluloid pool of ideas. It actually starts millions of years ago, with a chimp minding its own business a la 2001: A Space Odyssey, then cuts abruptly to modern day Taipei. The question is raised: What has humanity accomplished during the past million years?

Well, lots of chaos, mostly.

In Taipei, the story devolves to typical Besson material. Guns and drugs. Lots of both. But, to spice it up and give the allure of something deeply meaningful, footage from the animal kingdom of the Serengeti is interspersed with the human action.

We haven’t advanced all that far. Got it.

Not-So-Lucid Lucy

In this case the drug of choice is an experimental concoction called CPH4, which mimics the drug produced naturally by women during the early stages of pregnancy (or so the story goes). It’s powerful; it’s what acts as, as the movie explains, a nuclear explosion that yields baby bones and matter.

Enter Lucy. No, not the “first human” of evolutionary studies (she makes a cameo, though), but rather an American in Taipei (Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin). Her adventure kicks off with an engaging situation involving her boyfriend of the past week, a locked suitcase, handcuffs and some Taiwanese thugs.

It’s slick and promising, but once CPH4 is introduced, Lucy’s journey veers wildly into metaphysics and super heroics. While it’s entertaining to a point, the main story elements are so pedestrian as to feel like a complete betrayal of Besson’s own lofty goals.

Sister Rust

Lucy shares some thematic elements with Wally Pfister’s Transcendence, released earlier this year. While that movie focused on virtual reality and the overwhelming power of the Internet, both tackle immortality and man’s capacity to be more. (And they both offer Morgan Freeman in a supporting role.)

In Lucy, that’s framed by the choice of either immortality or reproduction. Although, really, from a certain point of view, reproduction is itself a form of immortality. Given that choice and the suggested possibilities, Lucy’s journey to “100% capacity” leads to a disappointing conclusion.

There is one odd addendum to all of this. During the end credits, a song is played. The lyrics make reference to the movie ending and waiting for the credits to roll. The song is called Sister Rust and it’s performed by Damon Albarn (of Blur and Gorillaz). It’s perhaps more revealing of the movie’s ambitions and possibilities than the movie itself.

Much like Albarn’s experimental, exotic and exciting musical efforts, Lucy should be taken more as an experimental piece of filmmaking rather than storytelling.