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The smarter 'Lucy' gets, the dumber the movie gets: Roeper

A drug accidentally absorbed by Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) allows her tap inmore her bracapacity expanding her powers but also impairing

A drug accidentally absorbed by Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) allows her to tap into more of her brain capacity, expanding her powers but also impairing her morality as she pursues the next dose. | UNIVERSAL PICTURES

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‘LUCY’ 1⁄2★

Lucy Scarlett Johansson

Professor Norman Morgan Freeman

Mr. Jang Choi Min-Sik

Pierre Del Rio Amr Waked

Universal Pictures presents a film written and directed by Luc Besson. Running time: 89 minutes. Rated R (for strong violence, disturbing images and sexuality). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Scarlett Johansson says expanding your brain comes with a price

Updated: August 26, 2014 6:18AM

The smarter Lucy gets, the dumber “Lucy” gets.

By the time we reach the howler of a conclusion, we’re looking one of the most skillfully shot films certain to appear on my list of the absolute worst movies of the year.

As much as I’ve admired Scarlett Johansson’s work as her skill set has improved over the years, she’s the not the first (or even the 10th) name that would come to mind if I were listing the most cerebral actresses on the planet.

And yet within a span of about seven months, Johansson has been cast as a disembodied Operating System that becomes thousands of times more intelligent than her human counterparts in “Her,” a super-intelligent creature from another planet that literally devours men in “Under the Skin” and a woman who becomes superhuman as she accesses uncharted percentages of the human brain in “Lucy.”

If Johansson is cast as anyone but God in her next role, she’ll be playing a dumbed-down character.

From the first plot descriptions and the trailers, “Lucy” looked like the kind of film that could go either way. Given the premise and the track record of Luc Besson (the driving force behind such brilliant flights of lunacy as “Leon: The Professional” and “The Fifth Element”), I was hoping for a bold and inspired piece.

What I got was a piece of something else altogether.

Johansson’s Lucy gets caught up in a bloody mess in Taipei, Taiwan, where a ruthless mobster known as Jang (Choi Min-sik in a cartoonishly over-the-top performance) is developing a new synthetic drug more powerful than anything the world has ever seen. Jang’s henchmen surgically implant a packet of the blue-colored powder in Lucy’s abdomen, but after Lucy is kicked and beaten by some obligatory leering, drooling, creepy henchmen, poof! She absorbs the drug, which allows her to tap into 15 percent, then 20 percent, then 30 percent, of the brain’s capacity. Before you know it, Lucy’s able to speak multiple languages, disregard pain, access the thoughts of others and perform feats some of Black Widow’s “Avengers” friends would envy.

Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman’s Professor Norman pops up from time to time to explain his theories about what would happen if a human being were able to do the whole “free your mind” thing.

He has no idea.

Johansson plays Lucy as a kind of robotically curious creature who casually wounds or kills innocent bystanders in her pursuit of more packets of the blue powder, in order to sustain her own life. (Lucy’s duplicating cells at such a rapid pace, she correctly theorizes she’ll be dead within 24 hours if she doesn’t get more of the blue stuff.)

Yet there are times when Lucy shows emotion, with tears streaming down her beautiful face as she accesses memories. One wonders why Lucy never seizes upon those opportunities to, I don’t know, figure out a cure for cancer or create an artificial, cheap and healthful food supply to feed the world. At the very least, tell us who shot JFK!

Besson has always demonstrated the ability to chuckle at the madness of his own material, and he provides some solid laughs from time to time. But these winks do nothing to erase the reality of a plot that becomes unintentionally hilarious as Lucy gains the ability to freeze humans in their tracks, read minds and even time-travel. (The sequence in which Lucy transports herself from Paris to New York City and then back in time is beautifully shot, with stunning visuals. It’s also maybe the most ridiculous segment of any film I’ve seen this year, with the possible exception of the scene that immediately follows in this very movie.)

I can see why some might get a Guilty Pleasure kick out of this movie. The scene where the world’s foremost thinkers are turned into dunderheaded goofs, asking Professor Norman what’s happening just so we can hear Professor Norman’s explanation for the goofiness transpiring on screen, is pretty damn entertaining. I half-expected the professor to say, “John Doe has the upper hand!”

In “Under the Skin,” Johansson was mesmerizing playing a character with understanding well beyond human capacity. In “Lucy,” she’s all over the place. Besson favors extreme close-ups that remind us of how beautiful Johansson is, and how lost she is playing this character. When she tries to portray Lucy as an extra-human entity losing her capacity to feel emotion, it might have helped if she weren’t clad in a clingy, see-through T-shirt with a black lace bra underneath. The result is more Fembot than robot.

The Razzies await.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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