Benjamin Svetkey
June 30, 2010 AT 04:00 AM EDT


Current Status
In Season
89 minutes
Wide Release Date
Min-sik Choi, Morgan Freeman, Scarlett Johansson, Claire Tran
Luc Besson
Universal Pictures
We gave it an A

The title character of this gripping ?sci-fi thriller Lucy is a genetic experiment: part person, part chimpanzee. She looks and sounds just like any normal 15-year-old girl — in fact, she can recite Shakespeare’s sonnets by heart — it’s just that she sometimes eats bananas without peeling them and swings from treetop to treetop. Is she a human being? Does she have a soul? Does she have any civil rights?

Splicing DNA has been a science-fiction plot device as far back as the 19th century, when H.G. Wells was mixing the test tubes. But the results were always horrific crimes against nature. Here, the mutant hybrid couldn’t be lovelier or more charming — it’s the people who behave like monsters. When Lucy’s monkey heritage is revealed, she is suddenly a celebrity, appearing on the covers of Time, Rolling Stone, and even Teen Vogue. But she’s also catching hell from the religious right, who want the “demon child” dead, as well as from coldhearted ? scientists who want to cage her and study her brain.

Laurence Gonzales, whose last best-seller was 2005’s Deep Survival, is clearly a genetic hybrid too: He’s Michael Crichton, with one or two strands of Cormac McCarthy’s DNA. He’s got Crichton’s gift for page-?turning storytelling, but also a vivid, literary-grade prose style, and a knack for getting inside his characters’ heads. Here’s Lucy, after growing up among apes in the jungle, watching her first TV show in America: “She pushed a button and some sort of drama began. People were arguing. Lucy recognized one of them as an old dominant female, but something had been done to her to make her face look younger. Lucy was puzzled that someone would wish to look younger and give up the status that age conferred.?”

Lucy may or may not have a soul, but it’s pretty clear her creator’s got plenty. A

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