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Luc Besson lets Scarlett Johansson play smart in 'Lucy'

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With "Lucy," Luc Besson became fascinated when he learned how little of human brain capacity is used.

At this point, there seems little beyond Scarlett Johansson's abilities. So who's to say she can't play the smartest woman in the world?

In writer-director Luc Besson's "Lucy," opening Aug. 8, Johansson follows her recent extraordinary trio of "Her," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "Under the Skin" as an otherwise normal woman forced to become a drug mule. When a bag of narcotics stitched into her abdomen bursts, Lucy suffers a chemical reaction that transforms her into a supercomputer far more inclined toward revenge than playing chess.

Besson, whose "La Femme Nikita" proved that modern movie women can kick as much butt as men, was drawn to the story after a conversation with a doctor about human brain capacity in which he learned that only about 10% of our potential faculties are used. "What we are using and what we know is a drop of water in the ocean," said the French filmmaker who is a founding member of the nation's Brain & Spine Institute. "So what would happen if you could reach 80% or 90% of your brain capacity?"

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For all of the film's talk about brain power, the tightly wound filmmaker says he's not interested in any medication that would ramp up his intellect by even a few percentage points. "I'm crazy enough already," Besson said.

"Lucy" is ultimately governed by action rather than science, and Besson admits the film's medical extrapolations are hokum. What he hopes the film, with a cast that includes Morgan Freeman and "Oldboy's" Choi Min-sik, does explore is how quickly Lucy's humanity is lost through her newfound powers. "Everything that makes us human will disappear — so what's left after that?"

john.horn@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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