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Originally published Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 12:06 AM

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‘Lucy’ shows the dark side of being superhuman

Scarlett Johansson continues her string of not-exactly-human roles in “Lucy,” a short and zippy thriller. It got three out of four stars.


Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Lucy,’ with Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min Sik, Amr Waked. Written and directed by Luc Besson. 89 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images and sexuality. Several theaters.

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Scarlett Johansson has developed an interesting specialty of late: She’s playing characters who aren’t exactly human. In “Her,” she was the silken voice of a computer’s operating system; in “Under the Skin” she played a quietly ruthless alien bent on devouring human prey. And now, in Luc Besson’s invigorating action drama “Lucy,” she’s at first a regular young woman who is gradually transformed into a sort of tragic super­hero — one whose brain capacity expands as she becomes not only stronger, but smarter.

It’s both a fascinating and a ridiculous idea, but one that’s fun to watch, particularly as Besson wisely keeps the film trimmed to a quick-as-a-lightning-bolt 89 minutes. Johansson plays the title character, a drifting American student in Taiwan who, in a foolish moment, reluctantly agrees to deliver a package to a new boyfriend’s business contact. Just like that — watch out, students abroad! — she’s kidnapped as a drug mule. But the plastic bag holding the powerful substance in her abdomen can’t go the distance, and soon Lucy is not only wreaking violent revenge, but learning new languages in an instant, reading minds, moving objects and jetting off to France to consult with a renowned brain scientist (a perfectly cast Morgan Freeman).

All of this is portrayed in zippy style, particularly an impressive car-chase sequence on the streets of Paris and something I can only describe as a vein-cam (we watch the powder — a brashly bright blue — coursing mercilessly through her bloodstream). Johansson, even as we watch Lucy’s humanity fade away, anchors the film with her presence; fully committing to a ludicrous role that she somehow always makes believable. “I feel everything,” she whispers on the phone, suddenly hyper-aware of every sensation. You hear, in that moment, the pain of being superhuman.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com



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