With 1990's "La Femme Nikita", writer/director Luc Besson re-invented the badass female revenge movie, as well as making it somewhat respectable for the French to make Hollywood-style action movies. Despite an aggressive ad campaign to suggest otherwise, Besson's new film, "Lucy" is not an upgraded "Nikita". It's much, much weirder. A 89-minute mishmash of everything from "The Matrix" to "The Tree of Life" to a PBS nature special, "Lucy" is a loony, existential fever dream.
The film opens, "2001: A Space Odyssey"-style, at the Dawn of Man. Or, more precisely, on prehistoric Lucy, man's evolutionary mother. Cut to modern-day Taipei, where Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) - a vaguely dim-witted student/party girl - lets her shady boyfriend talk her into delivering a suitcase to a mysterious man named Mr. Jang (Min-Sik Choi of "Oldboy"). Clearly, something terrible is about to go down, but Besson intercuts nature footage of predators and prey to beat us over the head that Lucy is dead meat.
As she's carted off by thugs to meet Mr. Jang, we cut to a lecture about human brain capacity, given by Morgan Freeman as a professor of some kind (his credentials are never really made clear). Humans, he says, use only about 10% of their brain's potential. So far, Lucy's using just enough to keep from getting killed. She ends up a drug mule for Jang's operation, carrying in her belly a packet of mysterious blue powder. During a beating, the packet breaks, flooding her system with the drug. Instead of killing her, it sets off a chain reaction in her brain that has her (literally - and I mean literally) climbing the walls. Et voilà. Instant superhero.
With her new-found brain power, Lucy whups the tar out of her captors and dispatches them with pinpoint, remorseless accuracy. Neurons firing and guns a-blazing, Lucy naturally becomes the quintessential Besson heroine: waif-turned-fembot. But "Lucy" is anything but predictable. As Lucy accesses more and more of her brain, the more wacky the film becomes.
Elements from dozens of other films (including Besson's own) are cobbled together, threaded with pseudo-scientific malarkey, and punctuated with creaky dialogue and CGI dinosaurs. As Freeman's character continues to narrate like a particularly nap-inducing episode of "Nova", Lucy discovers her telekinetic abilities, buys nicer clothes, and calls her mom to mumble inanities like "I feel everything" in a Data-like monotone. Her goals seem increasingly convoluted, too, from simple revenge to enlisting Prof. Norman's help in becoming the ultimate know-it-all. But whatever her mission, it involves a lot of guns, tight clothes, car chases and surprisingly blasé bystanders.
The overall effect of "Lucy" is like listening to a child's story about where the sun goes at night. Some of it makes sense, most of it doesn't, and often it's unexpectedly hilarious. "Lucy" It pokes fun at itself and takes itself too seriously at the same time. Johansson and Freeman seem to be in on the joke, but it's unclear whether or not Besson is, too. In the end, it's not a great movie, but it's kooky (and short) enough to entertain.