July 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: Unlike most shoot-'em-ups, 'Lucy' dabbles in the cosmos

Scarlett Johansson, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic in 'Lucy.' (Universal Pictures)

The mad mash-up movie “Lucy” has something to frustrate everyone, but just enough chutzpah to delight a demented few.

The film is part modern mayhem exercise, stuffed with shootings, car chases and the like, and part existential evolution-of-the-mind metaphysical navel-gazer. It’s “Old Boy” meets “The Fountain,” or “Her” channeled through “The Replacement Killers.”

It is, to say the least, completely nuts. But nuts can be a lot of fun, or at least satisfyingly daring.

Things start off in a fairly mundane, bloody way. Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is an innocent in Taiwan who finds herself captured by a drug lord who has a plastic bag of a new experimental drug sewn into her gut. She’s then supposed to be sent off somewhere and have the substance cut out of her.

But, along the way, a henchman comes on to Lucy, she rejects him, and after he beats her, the drugs are let loose in her body.

Meanwhile, the audience is cutting away to both a lecture on human consciousness from Paris-based Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) and shots of animals interacting in nature. Professor Norman is talking about how humans only use 10 percent of their brain power (a myth, by the way) and the animals are mostly eating one another or fornicating.

At the same time, the drug is transforming Lucy, letting her use an ever-larger portion of her brain. Soon enough, she has laid waste to her captors and set off on assumed revenge, even as her growing brain sees lights rising out of everyone’s cell phones and pulses running through tree trunks.

Yeah, she’s a super killer and now she’s going to blow all the bad guys away. More summer fun.

Except that’s not what happens.

Sure, she heads to Paris — she can change her hair color just by thinking, she can read memories, all sorts of stuff — and hooks up with a cop there (Amr Waked) who helps her hunt down her fellow drug mules. But she’s not after bad guys, she’s after the drugs. With the help of Professor Norman, she wants to get to 100 percent brain usage and see what happens.

Writer-director Luc Besson has long been a bang-bang auteur, churning out action flicks high-minded (“The Professional,” “La Femme Nikita”) and low (“The Transporter” series, “District B13”), and he previously dabbled with a trippy combination of forms with “The Fifth Element.” Here, though, he’s gone pretty much full schizo.

Lucy’s sitting in a chair, her mind traversing the universe in all sorts of colorful ways, while French cops and Chinese hoods blast away at one another nearby. Shoot-out fans are screaming for more blood, psychedelia enthusiasts want more trippiness and one suspects the rare person sits between the two in a state of cosmic-ballistic bliss.

Johansson, who’s been on a roll most actors can only dream of (“Don Jon,” “Her,” “Captain America,” “Under the Skin,” “Chef” and this in less than a year) grows progressively more spacey as the film moves along. Your average party girl at the beginning, she literally begins losing her mind after the drugs hit her — her brain grows and her original personality dissipates. It’s a nice trick — she’s ascending to blankness.

Then again, aren’t we all? “Lucy” may be scientific hogwash, but it does raise all sorts of questions you rarely find in a shoot-out flick. Besson gets to hide his wacky ideas behind Johansson’s beatific-bad girl for a while, but once the crazy becomes apparent you can’t put it back in the box. And really, that’s good thing.

'Lucy'

GRADE: B

Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images and sexuality

Running time: 90 minutes

tlong@detroitnews.com
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