Welcome to the next generation of drug glamorization. Why get high when you can get better? Way better. It’s no coincidence that we ask that question just as Barry Bonds is finally about to go to trial or that the drug war in Mexico has forced college kids to find another cheap way to party. But instead of hitting home runs or battling cartels, Limitless brings the seduction of self-enhancement to your local cineplex in a witty package that’s pretty enough to keep you intrigued and intriguing enough to keep you entertained.
Coming off a different kind of “hangover”, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is about to take a header off a high-rise and reflects on what brought him to a final date with gravity. With bad facial hair, a ratty ponytail and a gut, Eddie’s doesn’t seem to offer much in flashbacks. The would-be novelist is suffering from writer’s block so strong that his editor is threatening to abort the once promising author. His girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish); however, goes one step further and breaks up with him.
Like a chapter in a novel that he can’t write, fate bumps into him in the form of his sleazily well to do former brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth). Wielding a not-so-legal clear pill called NZT, Vernon offers Eddie the chance to use the mythical 80% of gray matter that humans let sit on the shelf. Our desperate hero reluctantly takes it and in no time reaches his true potential.
Cityscapes are seen in vibrant colors, because that’s what a 4 digit IQ can bring. He can charm women, recall anything he’s ever seen, learn languages in a snap, finish his novel and even win back the fair Lindy. Needless to say, he becomes hooked. After all, we are talking drugs here. Eddie’s soon on the run from a Russian loan shark, the police and even a maniacal businessman (Robert De Niro). It’s not easy being a genius.
Based on Alan Gynn’s novel “The Dark Field”, screenwriter Leslie Dixon takes Limitless and wisely uses…limits. With a resume of hit films such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Pay It Forward, along with the Hairspray and The Thomas Crown Affair remakes, Limitless shows her range as much as it does it’s star, Bradley Cooper. A fine script where story is placed over special effects proves to be all the NZT Cooper needs. What could’ve been a bad faux superhero cautionary tale is an evolution of a loser who learns that with great power comes great responsibility…and great danger.
Director Neil Burger was recruited by Dixon and producer Scott Kroopf to capture their unique take on Eddie’s brain on drugs. Impressed by Burger’s previous work on The Illusionist, the duo were pleasantly surprised when the director set out to make the movie as believable as possible. That’s right, don’t expect the 150 mil of 3D gimmickry that brought Mars Needs Moms to its dubious place in history. Think more like cascading typeface and the type of fast motion fight scene that you’d see in one of the Transporter movies. Even Cooper’s baby blues were used to illustrate his newfound genius.
Burger gets into Eddie’s head moving him not just forward or upward, but on a diagonal trajectory, never stopping to look back or down. The momentary slide based on the NZT or hubris only serves to further his arc towards finding a balance between the two. Perhaps the best limit was from Burger’s use of special effects. Much like a stranger’s first experience with the internet, facts, faces and memories come to Eddie in an endless stream of data, all of it seemingly useful. The ride is as frenetic as Eddie’s speech when he’s under the influence.
Robert De Niro brings a pedigree to the film matched only by the director’s guile. As Wall Street tycoon Carl Van Loon, De Niro takes Eddie under his wing while warning his protege that his freakish skills at predicting the market or people’s behavior are no match his experience. De Niro uses Dixon’s excellent dialogue to remind audiences once again why you don’t need muscles or a spinning heel kick to be the toughest guy in the room.
The only unfortunate limit in the film is the use of Abbie Cornish. She’s wasted here as the girlfriend, highlighted by the fact that when she’s allowed to spread her wings for instance, in an NZT fueled chase scene, you want to see her take things to the next level.
Limitless take us on a fun journey through the mind of an everyman who shuns a cape and settles on being a flawed hero thanks to modern science. Bradley Cooper’s performance definitely showcases his nearly limitless potential to carry a movie and hold his own next to one of the screen’s greats. I’m sure we’d all like a drug for that.