"Lucy" is a foreign art house film masquerading as a blockbuster, or vice versa.
Luc Besson's crackling direction keeps the story moving faster than you can say "CPH4."
CPH4 is the synthetic substance that gives Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) superpowers that would make the Hulk or any Marvel Comics superhero green with envy.
And while there is the de rigueur car chase scene (directors are still trying to top "Bullitt," 1968, and "The French Connection," 1971), the expected spinning, crashing, flipping police cars (directors, mostly boys being boys, can't resist smashing cars as if they were toys they clutched in their hands as children) and explosions, there's nary a demolished city skyline.
There are super visuals, including montages of speeded-up urban street scenes, nature film sequences of wildlife, and vibrant microscopic organisms.
That's not to say that "Lucy" is a mashup of "Fantastic Voyage" (1966), "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) "The Matrix" (1999) and "The Tree Of Life" (2011), with a dash of Tarantinoesque extreme characters and hip-quip dialogue, a la "Pulp Fiction" (1994).
What none of the aforesaid films has is Scarlett Johansson, who podiums as the No. 1 movie action hero. Take that "The Rock," Marky Mark, Robert Downey Jr., et al. No Iron Man suit needed for Johansson.
Lucy is a living accidental experiment gone awry. She has powers beyond superpowers. She reads minds, stops enemies dead in their tracks, and even controls your personal electronic device. She's the NSA, a military drone and heat-seeking missile all wrapped up into one.
Johansson (who follows her "Avengers" roles as the title character in "Black Widow," now in production) starts the film as an innocent bystander and becomes a damsel in duress. Johansson has the stance, attitude, minimalist style and voice (she was "Her," 2013, after all) to pull it off. Her face of sensual impassivity, ever-scanning eyes, and pensive pouty lips reveal nothing, and everything. She tilts her head, moves her arms rigidly, and walks briskly like the latest generation of robotics to march out of the lab.
Counterbalancing the cool but smoldering Johansson is the smoldering but cool Morgan Freeman as Professor Norman, a research scientist giving a TED-type talk about "what if" humans were able to harness the more than the 10 percent of their brains that they supposedly use.
Enter Lucy. She's going to 10 percent and beyond.
Lucy battles a really nasty pack of bad guys, headed by Min-sik Choi. She's aided by French police captain Pierre Del Rio (a very fine Amr Waked).
Besson ("La Femme Nikita," 1990; "Leon: The Professional," 1994; "The Fifth Element," 1997; "The Family," 2013) has marshalled a huge production, with action scenes that rival blockbusters budgeted four times that of "Lucy" (which cost $40 million). While "Lucy" is uber violent, the violence is emblematic of the storyline.
At the film's opening, Lucy asks in a voiceover, "Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?"
At the film's conclusion, Lucy asks, "Life was given to us a billion years ago. And now you know what to do with it."
One thing you can do is see "Lucy."
You may have to use more than 10 percent of your brain to figure out the "science" in "Lucy."
But that 10 percent will be thoroughly entertaining.
"Lucy" is not a no-brainer. "Lucy" is mind-blowing.
"Lucy," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality; Genre: Action Science-Fiction; Run time: 1 hr., 30 min.; Distributed by Universal Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonymous: "Lucy" was filmed on location in Taipei City, Taiwan, and Paris, France.
Box Office, Aug. 1: It's a Marvel world, after all, at the multiplex, with "Guardians Of The Galaxy," latest in the comic books' franchise, opening at No. 1 with $94 million, biggest August opening ever and third biggest year's opening, slipping "Lucy" to No. 2, $18.2 million, $79.5 million, two weeks, and keeping "Get On Up" opening down at No. 3, $14 million, one week, with "Hercules" losing even more strength, No, 4, with $10.7 million, $52.3 million, two weeks;
5. "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes," No. 3, $8.7 million, $189.3 million, four weeks; 6. "Planes: Fire & Rescue," $6.4 million, $47.5 million, three weeks; 7. "The Purge: Anarchy," $5.5 million, $62.9 million, three weeks; 8. "Sex Tape," $3.5 million, $33.9 million, three weeks; 9. "And So It Goes," $3.3 million, $10.4 million, two weeks; 10. "A Most Wanted Man," said to be Philip Seymour Hoffman's last film, $3.3 million, $7 million, two weeks
Unreel, Aug. 8:
"About Alex," R: College friends reunite for a weekend in the drama starring Aubrey Plaza and Maggie Grace.
"Into The Storm," PG-13: Richard Armitage leads storm-chasers in the action-thriller.
"Step Up All In," PG-13: The all-stars from previous "Step-Up" contests head to Las Vegas in the romantic-drama.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," PG-13: Megan Fox and Will Arnett aid the Turtles' rise from the sewers to battle evil forces in New York City in the science-fiction action comedy.
"The Hundred-Foot Journey," PG: Lasse Hallstrom directs Helen Mirren in the drama about competing French restaurants.
"What If," PG-13: Danielle Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan star in the romantic comedy about friends who fall in love.
Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, thelehighvalley-press.com; the Times-News web site, tnonline.com; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and wdiy.org, where they're archived. Email Paul Willistein: email@example.com. You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.
Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes