"Kill Bill" meets "2001: A Space Odyssey" in Luc Besson's fascinating disaster "Lucy," the story of a woman who develops cosmic superpowers after absorbing a strange drug. Though ostensibly a simple revenge thriller in which Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) hunts down the thugs who implanted her with the creepy chemical CPH4, the movie has more on its mind -- including, but not limited to, the nature of time, the definition of consciousness and the evolution of mankind.
It's rare to see female action heroes onscreen (let alone one who merges with the universe), but Besson is a connoisseur. He's worked with several sultry muses over the years, from Anne Parillaud in 1990's "Nikita" to Zoe Saldana in 2011's "Colombiana." Johansson, though, is a star of different magnitude, and she's begun specializing in supra-human roles: the gravity-defying Black Widow in "The Avengers," a computer-being in "Her," a hyper-evolved alien in "Under the Skin." The otherworldly actress and the flashy, trashy director seem like a match made in sci-fi heaven.
"Lucy" begins promisingly, with Johansson in fine form as a terrified victim and Besson trying out an unexpectedly funny, almost Dadaist visual style. As Lucy's boyfriend lures her into the drug-mule business, Besson cuts to a mouse sniffing a trap; as thugs circle around her, leopards stalk gazelles. (Besson is the film's editor as well as writer-
director.) When Morgan Freeman's Professor Norman begins lecturing on human brain capacity -- Lucy is rapidly approaching 100 percent -- the movie chops up so many images that it looks like an educational film gone berserk.
At first, it's dazzling. Besson forgets, however, that he's promised us pulp entertainment and instead delivers a serious treatise on next-step metaphysics. As Lucy evolves into an all-knowing, all-powerful force, the humans around her become useless.
In the end, "Lucy" is gobbledygook. Like the recent Johnny Depp vehicle "Transcendence," it conflates the mythical with the mundane, science with magic, God with the Internet. At least this 88-minute movie won't take up too much of your brain capacity.
PLOT After ingesting a strange drug, a young woman develops superpowers.
RATING R (strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality)
CAST Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik
BOTTOM LINE Johansson has fun in her latest sci-fi role, but the action gets lost amid the pseudoscience.
FOUR MORE: LUC BESSON'S FRENCH CONNECTIONS
Slick, stylish and as polished as stainless steel, the films of Luc Besson are prime examples of cinéma du look, a French school of filmmaking favoring visual pyrotechnics over strict narrative, and often featuring alienated outsiders and corrupt police and other institutions. Here are four:
SUBWAY (1985) The underworld goes underground in this cult crime comedy of a wanted man (Christopher Lambert) who meets a fugitive society living in the Paris Metro.
LA FEMME NIKITA (1990) High heels, a little black dress and a gun: Anne Parillaud made hearts race and bullets fly as a trained assassin for a shadowy government agency.
THE PROFESSIONAL (1994) Jean Reno plays a simple-minded but soulful hit man who takes an insistent 12-year-old girl (Natalie Portman, in her breakout role) as his protégé.
THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997) In this over-the-top phantasmagoria, Bruce Willis is a 23rd-century flying-taxi driver and Milla Jovovich the possessor of a "divine light" that will save Earth if they can only escape evil industrialist Gary Oldman.
-- Frank Lovece