by Bob Garver
July 29, 2014. For years, popular culture has perpetuated the myth that humans only use 10 percent of their brain and anyone who can unlock the rest will basically develop superpowers. This is a bogus theory, the truth (and this is the short version) is that while you may be using only a small portion of your brain at any given time, the rest is so specialized that it is not relevant to the task at hand. I’m sitting down to type this, so I’m not using the portion of my brain I use to walk. But apparently the idea of characters with super brain power is really appealing to filmmakers, which is why we have movies like “Lucy.”
Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is an American student living in Taiwan. She’s pressured into participating in a drug deal between her loser boyfriend and local crime boss (Min-sik Choi). Things go south, and she’s forced into mule-dom. A bag of mind-expanding crystals is inserted into her intestine, but the bag breaks and the drug is soon in her bloodstream. This causes her brainpower to skyrocket, and she has to decide just what to do with her newfound abilities. She also becomes a real pain for the bad guys.
So what does it mean for Lucy to have more of her brain unlocked? There are the usual parlor tricks like remembering obscure tidbits, being able to perform split-second medical diagnoses and learning new languages almost instantly. She also has control over matter, forcing people and cars to move at will just by thinking at them. Perhaps the most flaunted new ability is that she can manipulate her cells, changing her eye and hair color whenever she wants. She doesn’t change her appearance that often, possibly because she already looks like Scarlett Johansson and there’s not much improvement to be made.
One thing Lucy can’t control is that her cells are rapidly multiplying and she’ll soon be dead. Basically, she’s growing new body parts that are interfering with her regular body parts. A professor (Morgan Freeman, mostly in this movie to explain via a lecture what’s going on with Lucy’s body) convinces her to transfer her brain onto a computer so the world can know what she knows.
The climax of the film is Lucy racing through a cerebral journey to do this while the bad guys try to catch up to her.
The biggest problem with “Lucy” is that the film decides around the halfway mark that it wants to cut way back on the action. The first half sets up this cool plot about violent gangsters having control over Lucy and we get excited at the idea of her using her newfound abilities to get back at them creatively. But her payback mostly consists of disinterested shooting and after that she just dismisses the gangsters as a nuisance. By the end of the movie she’s just battling herself while a local police captain (Amr Waked) deals with the gangsters almost as an afterthought.
The film makes the mistake of thinking that the “deep” imagery swirling around in Lucy’s head is more interesting than the potential for an ingenious final battle. The film is short enough that it could have done both without seeming overlong: first the exciting action sequence that is sorely needed and then the eggheaded Kubrick tribute that ends the film on an abstract note.
I was ready to embrace “Lucy” as a silly (if bloody) action movie with a flawed premise. It was supposed to be one of those “turn off your brain” movies that can be fun if you accept how dumb it is. But as the film wore on, it became apparent that it was taking itself way to seriously. This probably goes against the film’s supposed celebration of brain power, but “Lucy” fails to be a fun movie because it never accepts how dumb it is.