To begin with, Lucy is dumb as all hell. It's quite impossible to lose sight of that fact. It's easily the dumbest movie of the summer of 2014, and there was a Transformers picture and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the running for that title, so y'know, it's not a little achievement.

If Lucy is somehow still more palatable than those are - and I think it is, but I haven't the slightest inclination towards changing the minds of anyone who thinks otherwise, because I'm very likely wrong - it's thanks in no small part to writer-director Luc Besson's very unique relationship to dumb cinema. Besson was, as we all recall from spending the '80s in France, one of the key figures in the CinΓ©ma du Look movement, a theoretical development in youth-oriented filmmaking that privileged the immediacy of style over any kind of depth of psychology or narrative, providing an emphatic sensory experience built around the disenfranchised youth of '80s France with more spectacle than sociology. I am frankly a bit skeptical of the whole conceit, given that the three main figures in the movement - Besson, Jean-Jacques Beineix, and Leos Carax - are comparable only in that the French critical establishment disliked all of them very much. But that being said, Besson's work especially has always had a tang of le Look to it: a deranged, candy-coated explosion of movement, color, and bodies that exists mostly as a sensual singularity without any strong attempt to extrapolate meaning beyond "feel things in this moment".

Lucy is definitely candy, if it's anything: it feels like the cinematic equivalent of dumping a dozen Pixy Stix into a an extra-large Coke and guzzling the whole thing down in one go. First you get the manic energy, then you get the feeling that your whole head is vibrated, and at last you're worn out and a touch nauseated. But it's fun while it lasts, and it's kept aloft by the sheer brassiness and creativity of its stupidity. For the first 15 minutes, as Lucy establishes its titular heroine (played by Scarlett Johansson in a popcorn variation on her Under the Skin role), surrounded by untrustworthy sorts creeping up on her from all corners, Besson throws in non-diegetic cutaways to antelopes being stalked by cheetahs (all while Johansson is wearing a leopard-print jacket, mind you), in a hopelessly silly gesture that's too clever to to hate, while being impossible to take seriously. And while Lucy certainly projects a desire to be taken seriously, with its stoned undergraduate take on human evolution and biology, Besson treats these subjects with such facile inattention (it plows through a 2001-esque "dawn of man" scene in about 10 seconds) that even the most heavy philosophical conceits recedes into the same buzzy rush of colors and momentum as the action sequences.

Not that it matters, anyway, but the plot involves Lucy being forcibly turned into a mule by a Taiwan druglord who sews a new drug into her abdomen; one beating later, the bag has split and given her an overdose of a growth hormone that causes her brain to kick into evolutionary overdrive. And so she begins to have access to more and more of her brain's carrying power - it's a whole movie based on that hoary "10% of your brain" legend, and too insistent about that as its gimmick to write if off as a generic "supersmart!" fantasy on the order of 2011's Limitless. No, it's married to its absurd pseudoscience, and one of the biggest problems with the film is that it slows down, surprisingly often, for expository monologues (themselves spiked by a random array of stock footage cut at the speed of light) by Morgan Freeman in the thankless role of a movie scientist, the kind specialising in all of human knowledge; and for a film that lives and dies on the strength of its gonzo commitment to showing Lucy gaining all sorts of random telekinetic and energy-altering superpowers, and applying them in glossy, aggressively Cool setpieces, any and all slowdowns are deadly.

When it works, Lucy is entirely dependent on Johansson, whose demerits as an actress both perceived and actual are precisely what the role needs: as she becomes more of an energy being and less human, Lucy is represented as increasingly divorced from emotions or personality or comprehensible internal psychology, and Johansson is good at projecting that kind of shell without a detectable inner life. Which sounds like it can't possibly be a compliment, but it's exactly what the film wants, and insofar as Lucy is pleasurable at all, it's pleasurable because it openly asks us to consider only its surfaces, and never its confused, scientifically illiterate, socially irresponsible undercurrents. Hell, part of me wonders if the point of the nutsoid script isn't to specifically discourage the viewer from engaging with it on any level but that of style and awareness of moving bodies and moving bullets.

This kind of actively shallow filmmaking, close to the platonic ideal of Besson's filmography in its admiration for speed and violence playing out in Europe and perpetrated by gorgeous white women, manages to be entertaining in fits and starts for basically only two reasons. One is that, at 90 minutes, Lucy doesn't succumb to the so very common sin of indulging itself for any longer than it can tolerate (one imagines a version of the film ten minutes shorter, shorn of the scientific gobbledygook, but we can't have everything). The other is that Besson is distinctly good at creating individual moments of viscerally appealing action, color, and shape; the film nears its finale with a bizarre, helplessly pretentious scene in which Lucy finds herself blasting through time and space as her body turns jet black in a featureless white room, and what puts it over is not that it's dramatically sound - Christ know it's not - but that the combination of Eric Serra's feverish score, Thierry Arbogast's chrome-like, saturated cinematography, and Besson's own high-speed, but never incoherent editing push it into a kind of blissful, coked-up place where the basic texture of the images is itself rewarding and pleasurable.

It's still more frenetic than anything else, and for all the immediate rush that comes while watching it, it's an excruciatingly hard movie to retain any sense of when it's down. It's basically a film about the marvels of taking drugs that functions as a drug in its own right; it creates manic visions and when it's done you're a little groggy and resent yourself a bit. But its absurdly slick, wholly surface-level appeal is hard to deny, and at least it has the benefit of being unapologetically in love with itself as a piece of cinema.