Le schlockmeister Luc Besson has no beef with men and guns, or he wouldn't have made the "Transporter" movies with Jason Statham. Or written "Taken." But in the world according to Besson, older girls ("La Femme Nikita") and young women in wee skirts and stiletto heels, gliding in slow motion toward their latest deserving victims of firearm violence, carrying nicely polished automatic weapons in each perfectly manicured hand — that's the stuff, that's what makes Besson Besson.
His latest is "Lucy." It stars Scarlett Johansson and for about 20 minutes it's one of writer-director Besson's most efficient and enjoyable trash compactors.
In Taipei, Taiwan, a hard-partying 25-year-old American studying abroad has just hooked up with a new boyfriend, a man so sweaty and with such bad taste in clothes you know he'll die early in the film. He's a delivery boy for a Taiwanese gangster and drug lord (Choi Min-sik), and Johansson's Lucy is forced, in handcuffs, to deliver a briefcase to Mr. Jang's hotel room.
All goes poorly. The briefcase contains a valuable and dangerous synthetic superdrug. The criminals slit open the abdomens of Lucy and three other unlucky folks so that large packets of the drug can be hidden inside and then used later to service all the eager young idiots in Europe looking for the next high. The drug is a brain-capacity enlarger, allowing the user to exploit more than the usual 10 percent. The substance makes you insanely capable but a tad rabid. After one of Lucy's captors kicks her in the stomach, her bloodstream is suddenly flooded with the stuff.
She becomes a kind of superwoman. With the aid of a bullet-headed Paris cop (Amr Waked), she must locate the other drug mules and exact revenge on Jang, all the while ingesting more and more of the blue drug in what might be her final 24 hours on the planet.
I mean, whatever. It'll do for a grandiose action premise. But after a swift, absurd, sleekly mounted opening, "Lucy" runs into a wall, just as its superheroine is established as capable of limitless accomplishments.
When you have a protagonist who can see through concrete, overhear conversations miles away, time-travel, levitate her adversaries, read minds and feel gravity, for starters, where does a movie go from there? Lucy even communes (briefly) with dinosaurs and tells her mother, tearfully, that she remembers when she was a breast-fed infant. A kindly brain expert (Morgan Freeman, giving neurological exposition his very best shot) enlisted by Lucy cannot believe what he's seeing.
Neither can we, for different reasons. When everything and anything is possible, nothing feels urgent or truly dramatic. The movie devolves into a melange of digital effects and sequences of glamorous slaughter, as Lucy swaggers around, with that big brain, and slouches toward becoming a full-lipped deity.
For much of the actress's fan base, Johansson has been just that for years. She's quite good in "Lucy," working both sides of the street: plausibly terrified victim in one section, unfeeling bad-ass the next. But before long it doesn't matter much, which isn't how star vehicles are supposed to operate.