What would happen if a human being could harness his or her brain capacity so that more than the generally-accepted 10% of it would be used? That's the premise of writer/director Luc Besson's sci-fi thriller "Lucy", starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman.
Besson's track record includes scripts for the brutally awful "Taken 2" and "The Family", so going into "Lucy", expectations were low. As for Johansson, she is choosing more edgy roles, and she is quite good as the title character. But by the time the movie rolls to its conclusion, Lucy is practically reduced to an automaton, and the effectiveness of Johansson's early scenes is essentially forgotten.
The first half of the film is far more intriguing than the last half. We meet Lucy, an exchange student in China, arguing with Richard (Pilou Asbæk), a guy she met a week earlier in a frenetic dance bar. Richard desperately wants her to deliver a metal briefcase which contains, according to him, "papers", and she will be paid $500 for doing it. But Lucy senses something is amiss, and her intuition is correct. She becomes involved with Chinese hoodlums, led by the exceedingly evil Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi).
She is drugged and awakens to learn that a surgery was performed which inserted a drug into her body called CPH4, very valuable to her captors. It turns out the drug, if ingested, has dramatic and potentially lethal effects. In Lucy's case, it increases her brain capacity usage exponentially. We know this because that ever-rising percentage is periodically flashed on the screen.
She becomes an omniscient being devoid of fear and emotion, and feels no pain. She could have utilized her extraordinary powers for the good of mankind --- you know, find a cure for cancer, rid the world of poverty, provide food and pure drinking water for the entire planet --- that sort of thing. In short, Besson squanders a chance to make his film a really powerful one.
But the director merely has her accomplish a microcosm of her potential. She learns Chinese in an hour, provides her American roommate a prescription in Chinese to deal with bad kidneys, and advises said roommate to eat organic foods. And true to Besson's writing style, it's more important that she become a killing machine to exact retribution on her tormentors than do anything significantly beneficial.
Freeman plays Professor Norman, an expert on all things related to brain capacity, but his character is one-dimensional, barely expressing surprise or amazement at Lucy's abilities. He is not particularly magnetic in this role.
Our interest in "Lucy" is maintained only as long as our curiosity is aroused. Where is this film going? Once it's established that Lucy can change her surroundings on a whim --- she goes from Times Square to the age of dinosaurs in a flash --- the film winds down, not to an exciting climax, but to a mundane whimper.
Opinion: Wait for DVD