- - Thursday, July 24, 2014

“Lucy” is ostensibly about a heroine who becomes dramatically smarter as the movie goes on. But the experience for the audience is exactly the reverse: As she gets smarter, the movie gets dumber.

The titular star of the film is Scarlett Johansson, who near the beginning of the story is unwillingly and unpleasantly loaded with a synthetic drug that allows her to use all of her excess brain capacity — not the usual 10 percent.

This gives her superpowers: the ability to control her body as well as the bodies of others, and eventually the structure of matter itself, although the particulars of the process are never really explained.

Granted, not much in this woefully underdeveloped, mystifyingly stupid movie is explained. It seems to have been created with far less than 10 percent brainpower.

The script by Luc Besson, who also directed, deals heavily in dopey dialogue about metaphysics and the meaning of life and time, but sounds mostly like the finals-week ramblings of a college philosophy major who hasn’t read the material.

Lucy is prone to spouting free-form poetry about the connections of all things. “I feel everything. Space, the air, the people. I can feel the gravity,” she says in a kind of affectless mental-patient monotone that one suspects was Miss Johansson’s method of suppressing her rage at being stuck in this terrible picture. “I can feel my brain,” she continues, a giggle-worthy line that practically comes off as a form of rebellion in a movie this dumb.

Part of the problem is that Lucy’s powers and abilities are never clearly defined. At first, when the drug has only begun to work, she can move fast and read fast, and knows how to fight and use automatic weapons. When the drug initially hits her system, she momentarily becomes stuck to the ceiling.

Later, she experiences some sort of attack in which her skin begins to melt off and float around her in a storm of digital particulates. By the movie’s end, she’s doing a canned Christopher Walker routine that plays like a parody of “The Dead Zone,” psychically reading the secret history of a man by touching his face.

She eventually melts into black goop and attacks the nearest rack of computer servers. What in the world could she be doing? Why, she must be building a new type of computer, explains Morgan Freeman’s character, who exists exclusively to spout clunky pseudoscientific gobbledygook that is supposed to take the place of exposition. A new type of computer! Of course! What else could it be?

The appeal of the movie’s basic concept is clear enough. In the 1990s, Mr. Besson made a series of subversive, stylish action classics with strong female roles: “La Femme Nikita,” “Leon: The Professional” and “The Fifth Element.” So why not let him make a movie that combines the modern superhero film with ‘90s-era Hong Kong action influences, heady philosophy and technofuturism?

Problem is, we got that movie 15 years ago. It was called “The Matrix,” and “Lucy,” which references that film repeatedly, including a halfhearted lobby shooting sequence, has nothing to add to it. It’s a movie that desperately wants to be mind-blowing, but will succeed only in blowing $15 and 90 minutes of your time.

½

TITLE: “Lucy”

CREDITS: Written and directed by Luc Besson

RATING: R

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