Limitless plays havoc with the old adage that most people use just 10 to 20 percent of their brain. But what if the other 80 or 90 percent were suddenly made available? Interested in what might happen? Thought so.
Broke, facing extreme writer's block and rejected by his girlfriend, deadbeat New York writer Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is convinced that he has no future. Things change quickly when a shifty figure from his past introduces him to NZT, a new synthetic drug that enhances mental abilities. Immediately after popping a clear little pill, Eddie's neurons get turbocharged. Stoked on NZT, Eddie rises to the top of the financial world. He attracts the attention of tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who believes he can use Eddie to make a fortune. But Eddie also suffers from terrible withdrawal side effects, a dwindling supply and bad decisions (including Russian mob involvement) that threaten to destroy his future.
Despite its many plot holes and at-times outrageous sequences (the most glaringly ridiculous scene involves ice skates) Limitless is far better than I thought it would be. From the camera-trick psychedelic beginning to the creepy and illuminating sense we get while watching Eddie under the influence, the film is more about enjoying the ride than anything else.
Limitless is a paranoid thriller blended with science fiction, propelled by doses of satire. The flick is heavy on narration and tends to take the story a little too lightly, but for the most part, it works. Then, of course, there's that darn meth metaphor. NZT looks a lot like speed: Eddie shows signs of bug eyes, dilated pupils, paranoia, has no appetite and stays up for days. There's also a warranted amount of delusions of grandeur when Eddie states "I wasn't high or wired, just clear" or "I don't have delusions of grandeur, I have a recipe for grandeur." I bet Charlie Sheen says that to himself all the time.
Limitless rockets along as Eddie's IQ reaches four digits and he learns to play the piano in seven hours, finesses the stock markets, summons lost memories in photographic detail and learns to speak languages fluently in a matter of minutes. As the side affects erupt, Eddie skips throug h time with no recollection or memory, allowing mystery to take hold, keeping you guessing as to where this will all end.
Adapted from Alan Glynn's novel, The Dark Fields, by screenwriter Leslie Dixon and directed with dizzying aplomb by Neil Burger (The Lucky Ones and The Illusionist), the film effectively parodies our short attention spans and pharmaceutical dependence while building a straightforward thrill ride. Using every camera trick known to Hollywood, the gimmickry pays off: Quick cuts, flashbacks (reminiscent of Requiem for a Dream), fish-eye lens, wide angles, time-lapse zooms... the hits just keep coming.
The acting is sketchy throughout and Cooper (in a constant state of hip five o'clock shadow) shows decent acting chops and a range that goes light years beyond The Hangover. Andrew Howard's Russian mobster lowlife creep is disturbingly menacing, providing a few of the more intense moments. DeNiro (looking super old) is just not believable as a ruthless corporate raider. His slime-ball big-wig CEO intellect is supposed to be searing, although aside from one decent monologue he seems to be sleepwalking through yet another role.
Still, this mystery action thriller keeps you riveted rather than repulsed, allowing for some updated-yet-old-fashioned entertainment while showcasing the pitfalls of addiction, financial corruption, backstabbing lawyers and clandestine deals. Yet even with all the twists and turns, it doesn't take a genius or someone on NZT to put the pieces together.
Interestingly, this is the first movie in a long time that has the audience rooting for someone to take drugs. Even so, Limitless is a cautionary tale about the emphasis of pharmaceuticals and the overachieving quest for wealth and material goods in our society.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert DeNiro, Andrew Howard
Directed by Neil Burger