July 30. 2014 9:30AM
By Mike Sullivan Weekender Correspondent
Is Scarlett Johansson a good actress? Or is she just really, very attractive? It's too close to call, isn't it? Because Johansson isn't just attractive in a way that fills you with such severe self-loathing that your body nearly shuts down and sends you into one of those dreaded 'I-Hate-Myself' comas (an experience, I'm sure, that all of us have shared) but she's attractive in a way that implies depth or experience. She looks like someone who's been to that part of Europe where ugly people aren't allowed, who feels that braces are overrated and has seen the door in Tom Cruise's house that leads to the sex cellar where all of his imperfect, shrieking L. Ron Hubbard clones are kept.
But for all of her perceived depth, her range as an actress is decidedly limited. Johansson's characters tend to be robotic, disaffected, frequently pissy and occasionally murderous. No surprise, in “Lucy” it's more of the same. However, this time around director Luc Besson seems to be subtly sending up her interchangeable performances by making her character so detached and cold she resembles an autistic dog confused by its own farts. Yet in a film as odd as “Lucy”, Johansson's deadpan performance barely registers because, incredibly, it isn't the weirdest thing you'll see on screen.
Essaying the title role, Johansson (whose haircut has taken admirable strides since “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) plays a hapless American expatriate who is violently strong-armed into becoming a drug mule for a Korean cartel run by “Oldboy's” Choi Min-sik. When a baggie filled with an experimental drug called CPH4 bursts shortly after it was sewn into her abdomen, Lucy's mind expands and gradually unlocks heretofore unknown super powers (like telekinesis, time travel and the ability to hypnotize dogs). But as Lucy turns the tables on Min-sik and his vicious underlings, she discovers that she has to keep taking the drug, otherwise she'll disintegrate into a pile of dust.
Suggesting what would happen if Stanley Kubrick and Jean Giraud Moebius simultaneously received brain tumors and decided to collaborate on a more playfully psychotic version of “Crank”, “Lucy” is fast-paced, balls-out, lunacy from start to finish. You get the sense that Besson hasn't had this much fun directing a film in years and it shows particularly in the scene where Lucy bursts into an operating room, shoots the patient on the operating table, holds the surgeon at gunpoint and then wistfully recalls what her mother's breast milk tasted like. It's the kind of film that opens with the satisfying shot of a seemingly HPV-riddled man in an ironic cowboy hat taking a gunshot to the forehead and closes with a be-tentacled Johansson absorbing 'technology' into her body. But best of all, “Lucy” moves so quickly that it actually apologizes during its comparatively slower moments. For example, footage of Morgan Freeman lecturing about the untapped potential of the human brain is intercut with mismatched stock footage of natural disasters, ballet dancers and animals doin' the sex! “Lucy” is the perfect combination of weird and dumb, a summer blockbuster filtered through the diseased mind of a Parisian maniac. In short, “Lucy” is amazing. It's so good you'll excuse the fact that it doesn't include a single scene where she suddenly pulls the football away just as Charlie Brown was about to kick it. Actually, I'm starting to question whether or not this movie was based on the Lucy Van Pelt character from the “Peanuts” comic strip. Eh, no matter. It's still a lot of fun.